November 30, 2023

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Scientists discover 14 evolutionary traps that threaten the future of humanity

Scientists discover 14 evolutionary traps that threaten the future of humanity

A new study reveals that humanity is at risk of falling into 14 evolutionary dead ends, called “evolutionary traps”, from climate change to artificial intelligence. The research, which focuses on the Anthropocene, highlights the need for global cooperation and active societal transformation to avoid these traps.

Deviant AI isn’t the thing you need to worry about the most (yet).

For the first time, scientists used the concept of evolutionary traps on human societies as a whole. They found that humanity risks falling into 14 evolutionary dead ends, ranging from global climate tipping points to skewed artificial intelligence, chemical pollution, and accelerating infectious diseases.

The Anthropocene: Successes and Challenges

The evolution of humanity has been an extraordinary success story. But the Anthropocene – the proposed geological epoch shaped by us humans – is showing more and more cracks. Multiple global crises, e.g Covid-19 Pandemics, climate change, food insecurity, financial crises, and conflicts have begun to occur simultaneously in something scientists refer to as a multiple crisis.

System dynamics and trap interactions

(a) System dynamics associated with three main sets of Anthropocene traps, global traps, technology traps, and
Structural traps (including time traps and communication traps). Two reinforced feedback loops are indicated using R and interactions between dynamics across sets of intercepts are indicated with colored superscripts (the color of the causal node) and lined arrows.
(b) Heat map of interactions between the outcomes of the 14 proposed Anthropocene traps.
Credit: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society b

Human creativity and unintended consequences

“Humans are incredibly creative Classify. We are able to innovate and adapt to many circumstances and can collaborate on surprisingly wide scales. But these capabilities turn out to have unintended consequences. “Simply put, you could say that the human species has been too successful and, in some ways, too smart for its own good,” says Peter Søgård Jørgensen, a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Center at Stockholm University and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Science Global Economic Dynamics and Biosphere Program and the Anthropocene Laboratory.

Peter Søgaard Jørgensen

Peter Søgaard Jørgensen is the lead author of the study. He is a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Center at Stockholm University and at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Global Economic Dynamics, Biosphere Program and Anthropocene Laboratory.
Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

A historical study of evolutionary traps

He is the lead author of a new landmark study published today as part of a larger evaluation in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society b. The assessment brings together insights from a wide range of different scientific disciplines across the natural and social sciences and humanities, to understand how the Anthropocene has evolved and how global sustainability can continue to evolve in the future.

Identify and understand evolutionary traps

The new study shows how humanity can stumble into “evolutionary traps” — dead-ends that occur as a result of initially successful innovations. In their first scoping effort, they identified 14 such factors, including simplification of agriculture, economic growth that does not bring benefits to humans or the environment, instability of global cooperation, climate tipping points, and artificial intelligence (for a full list of factors) traps see table Down).

Evolutionary traps in the animal world and human societies

“Evolutionary traps are a well-known concept in the animal world. Just as many insects are attracted to light, an evolutionary reaction that can kill them in the modern world, humanity is at risk of responding to new phenomena in harmful ways,” explains Peter Søgaard Jørgensen.

The simplification of agricultural systems is an example of this trap. Reliance on a few high-yielding crops such as wheat, rice, corn and soybeans has meant that calories produced have risen dramatically over the past century. But it also means that the food system has become highly vulnerable to environmental change, such as extreme weather events, or new diseases.

Danger and interconnectedness of traps

Of the 14 evolutionary traps, 12 are in an advanced state, meaning that humanity is about to get stuck to the point where it will become very difficult to get out. Moreover, societies continue to move in the wrong direction in 10 of these 14 societies. Alarmingly, these evolutionary traps tend to reinforce each other. If societies get stuck in a dead end, they are likely to get stuck in other ways as well. The two currently less advanced dead ends are technology independence – artificial intelligence and robotics – and the loss of social capital through digital transformation.

Lan Wang Erlandsson

Lan Wang Erlandsson is a co-author and researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Center at Stockholm University and the Anthropocene Laboratory of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

The new assessment also looks at why communities struggle so hard to break out of these traps.

Global challenges and the need for cooperation

“The evolutionary forces that created the Anthropocene are not working well at the global level. In current global systems, social and environmental problems are growing in places that seem far away from the societies that can prevent them from happening,” says co-author Lan Wang Erlandsson, a researcher at Stockholm University’s Stockholm Resilience Center and the Anthropocene. At the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences: Laboratory.

A call to action for humanity

Researchers say this does not mean that humanity is doomed to failure. But we have to start actively transforming our societies. Until now, the Anthropocene has been largely an unconscious byproduct of other evolutionary processes.

“It is time for humans to recognize the new reality and collectively move where we want as a species. We have the power to do so and are already seeing signs of such moves. Our creativity, ability to innovate and collaborate provide us with the perfect tools to effectively design our future. “We can break out of dead ends It is business as usual, but to achieve this, we must strengthen the capacity for collective human agency and design settings where it can flourish,” explains Peter Søgaard Jørgensen.

He continues: “The simple thing anyone can do is to become more involved in nature and society while also recognizing the positive and negative global consequences of our local actions. There is nothing better than exposing yourself to what needs protecting.”

Reference: “The Evolution of Multiple Crises: The Anthropocene Traps Challenging Global Sustainability” by Peter Søgaard Jørgensen, Rafe E. V. Janssen, Daniel Avila Ortega, Lan Wang Erlandsson, Jonathan F. Donges, Henrik Österblom, Per Olsson, Magnus Nyström, Steven J. Leyde, Thomas Hahn, Karl Falk, Gary D. Peterson and Anne-Sophie Crippen, January 1, 2024, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society b.
doi: 10.1098/rstb.2022.0261

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