Science-fiction has a knack for predicting the future. Speculative weapons from swipe-based interfaces to unmanned aircraft were long sci-fi hallmarks before they became ubiquitous technologies IRL. Others, like real-time holograms, surely aren’t that far away. (Light speed, on the other hand—never going to happen…right?)
Yet the fact that these fantastical techie visions were eventually realized changes nothing about their original speculative nature. Things like ray guns or bionic limbs say much more about the cultural and scientific milieu in which they were dreamt up than about the projected futures they outline, especially if those futures are, oh, 100,000 years away.
The visualizations, which imagine our descendants with the puppy-eyes of animé characters and the foreheads of Talosians, were developed in consultation with computational genomicist Alan Kwan. (Lamm, thankfully didn’t attempt any guesses at future-forward fashion—the subjects are both clothed in gray American Apparel tees.)
Lamm and Kwan’s genetically augmented, evolutionary progressed Übermenschen would unfold in three stages — 20,000 years, 60,000 years, and 100,000 years—during which time, the human genome would have been "wrested" from the determining factors of natural evolution and put in the service of human needs and tastes. In a report, the pair chart the biological and genetic milestones:
The human 20,000 years from now would look to us like someone today except we would notice the forehead is subtly too large. […] By this point, communications lenses will have replaced devices such as Google Glass.
[Humans will have] 1. Larger eyes in response to the dimmer environment of colonies further from the Sun than Earth. 2. More pigmented skin to alleviate the damaging impact of much more harmful UV radiation outside of the Earth’s protective ozone. 3. Thicker eyelids or a more pronounced superciliary arch to alleviate the effects low or no gravity that disrupt and disorient the eyesight of today’s astronauts on the ISS.
[C]ommunications lenses (commlens) in contacts and miniature bone-conduction devices implanted above the ear will work in tandem.
This human face will be heavily biased towards features that humans find fundamentally appealing: strong, regal lines, straight nose, intense eyes, and placement of facial features that adhere to the golden ratio and left/right perfect symmetry.
Of course, several scientists and writers took issue with Lamm and Kwan’s stagist predictions. Forbes writer Matthew Herper countered the original article (also posted by Forbes), saying that the project consulted very little science and operated under a heavy dose of fiction. "Lamm’s vision is science fiction that belongs in the same category as the big-headed aliens from the first ‘Star Trek’ pilot," Herper writes in his rebuttal.
Kwan responded to Herper’s points by stressing that the project was always intended as a speculative exercise and never to be passed of as "real science." He went on to accuse Herper of purposefully misrepresenting his and Lamm’s "simple thought experiments" for the sake of pageviews. For his part, Lamm shrugged off the flak, telling the New York Daily News that, while his images were informed by a scientific understanding, they were made "just for fun."
So next time you go claiming that the future of the humanity will look like Sailor Moon, remember to check off the "for entertainment purposes only" box.