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Extinction and Overspecialization: The Dark Side o fHuman Innovation

Marc E. Pratarelli and Brunetto Chiarelli


Published: 2007/09/01


Science and technology are among the principal characteristics of the human adaptive trait we call innovation. Our goal in this report is to provide the logic and justification for reconceptualizing innovation as a case of too much specialization rather than “general-purpose” adaptation. Generalpurpose/ domain-general traits are assumed by many to be preferentially selected-for because they offer a species the flexibility to switch between available solutions when environmental challenges occur. Traditionally, technology falls under the guise of domain-general traits manifest in culturally universal ways, yet in view of its impact on the environment we argue it meets the criteria for overspecialization. Specialization is evolution’s answer to fine-tuning a species to its niche, but it comes with a high risk should the narrowly defined niche change in substantive ways. Without flexibility, the lag time needed to adapt through random mutations is too long and collapse follows. The authors briefly cover the three basic classes of extinction, and then present three assertions why human innovation should be reconceptualized as too much specialization. This position turns on the notion that technology, consumption patterns, and overpopulation together are beginning to compromise the integrity of the global ecosystem. The natural history of technology reveals a monotonic function suggesting that humans have never voluntarily given up their investments in technology. While some new technologies are being designed with the hope of reducing environmental impacts, there is no hard evidence to suggest that enough can be done to reduce the demand side, nor help to reduce the population growth rate before the global ecosystem is compromised. If the present culture of technology endangers the environment much longer, there may be too few alternatives than nature’s punishment for monopoly.

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