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A brief history of tomorrow: Will biology determine the new caste structure?

Elon Musk says humans must merge with machines! Will the 21st century be the most unequal in history? Is this fear misplaced? Where will this stop? From ordinary humans to super-humans to ‘algorithm’ finally being the superior most and the world needing a Hollywood style hero to save humanity!

The esoteric concepts of justice, education, marriage and the like have all evolved over thousands of years as man began his quest for the ideal most socially stable structure. Over a period-of-time, as societies became more and more ‘civilised’, certain kind of social structures, social order and social hierarchies started to emerge.

Property – the most incarnate manifestation of a full-fledged hierarchy order to emerge – is one of the earliest and the most powerful. This got impressed more with agricultural revolution making land as one of the most prized assets. The history of the world is replete with cases of the feudal landlord and the oppressed worker class – with property playing the monster dating ‘inequality’ to the oldest human age possible.

With industrialisation in the recent centuries, however, ‘equality’ got added to the other esoteric concepts of humanism, socialism and liberalism. Industrial revolution flourished on the strength of the worker class – making the masses more important than ever before. Leadership of any kind (democracy, socialist, dictatorship, etc.) invested in the well-being of masses because masses were essential for ‘industrialisation’ or for ‘militarisation’.

The issue of ‘equality’ finally saw its peak in the 20th century with colonial structures breaking and the world largely becoming free and forces of globalisation promising a bright, equitable and just future for everyone.

Hierarchies typically resulted into a handful of elites controlling the resources and thereby the power to rule. Importantly, to evolve the hierarchical structure, man has been limited only by his powers of the ‘physical’ and the ‘cognitive’. The stronger ruled over the weaker, the more intelligent over the less intelligent.

Flash forward to today and we have a dangerous future developing. While technology could be a powerful democratising force, modern technology is out to threaten the core principle of equality like never-before.

Best armies worldwide tomorrow may rely heavily on a smaller number of highly professional soldiers using very high-tech kit and autonomous drones, robots and chemical weaponry. On the economic front, artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly threatening to replace humans through sheer outperformance.

A pet pursuit of the world’s majors – Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and several others is all focused towards AI. There are several others who are throwing in the towel. With rapid strides across technological disciplines of biotechnology, bioengineering, AI and the like; we might potentially have to fear and tackle a new reality: the biological inequality.

The deterministic factors for hierarchical superiority may have a third element: ‘biological superiority’ besides physical and cognitive factors.

Historically, the reasons for hierarchical superiority have not necessarily been attributable so much to genuine physical or cognitive edge as much as on evolution of an unjust institutionalised legacy.

In future, this could change with the rich ACTUALLY being more intelligent, more creative, more talented and may be physically more powerful.

The economically empowered have an unfair advantage to produce such brighter and smarter next generation through engineering human body and mind functions to a higher level. An ability gap of this kind may unleash a very dangerous world.

When your future depends on goodwill alone of the super-human class, it is a difficult proposition to nominate your children to the ‘human’ class.

Competing at global scale may no longer require the big ‘labour advantage’ of the third world because prosperity will require the existence of a few ‘super-humans’ and not masses of ordinary humans. In fact the masses may be seen as a drag on the limited resources and ‘dispensable’ therefore for a “greater” cause. Efficiency – another valued trait in modern society – may weigh in favour of limiting human population to a certain level and letting go of the welfare of the other 90 per cent.

“Globalisation will unite the world on a vertical axis and abolish national differences, but it will simultaneously divide humanity on a horizontal axis” as per Yuval Noah Harari, Lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Will globalisation combined with technological advances lead to speciation: the divergence of humankind into different biological castes or even different species. ‘The grandchildren of Silicon Valley tycoons might become a superior biological caste…’ fears Yuval.

Humanity is more technologically powerful than ever before and yet we feel ourselves to be increasingly fragile. Why? We are at cross-roads and the time is opportune to answer this most important question facing humanity. Our future may just depend on it!

Luckily for us, humans still rule over technology. We can carefully and wisely use it to create a better world. Unlike science fiction, the future isn’t predictable, it is contestable!

Piyush Sharma

Piyush Sharma is a global tech, media and entrepreneurial leader with a reputation for value creation and catalytic growth - across large billion dollar enterprises and start-ups. He created the successful foray of Zee Entertainment in India and globally under the ‘Living’ brand and successfully spearheaded their digital commerce foray in India.