Skip to main content

When Technology Advances to the Point Where We're Undermining Our Evolutionary Advantages

There's a reason we have thumbs.
  • Author:
  • Updated:
Motion sensors don't discriminate. (Photo: Jaromir Urbanek/Shutterstock)

Motion sensors don't discriminate. (Photo: Jaromir Urbanek/Shutterstock)

Something amazing is happening here. In the video below, nesting swallows become trapped in a building when they add doors. The birds soon learn, though, that they can get the doors to automatically open by triggering the motion sensors. This is a story, obviously, of how smart birds are, but here’s what struck me: We often think about human technology as for humans. In this case, however, birds adapted the technology for their own very similar needs (to get in and out).

If the workers had installed an older human technology—plain old doors—the birds would have been out of luck because they don’t have thumbs and the strength to manipulate an environment built for humans. But motion-activated doors make both thumbs and strength irrelevant, so now birds are our functional equals.

This is fascinating, yeah? Our technology has advanced to the point where we’re potentially undermining our own evolutionary advantages. I’m not putting a moral judgment on it. I think morality is firmly on the side of non-fitness based decisions (eh em, social Darwinism). If one wants to theorize the relationship between animals, technology, and what it means to be human, however, this looks like gold to me.

This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site, as “When Wild Animals Use Human Technology... and the End of Times.”