Although It has taken <em>homo sapiens</em> several million years to evolve from the apes, the useful information in our DNA, has probably changed by only a few million bits. So the rate of biological evolution in humans, Stephen Hawking points out in his <em>Life in the Universe</em> lecture, is about a bit a year.
“By contrast,” Hawking says, “there are about 50,000 new books published in the English language each year, containing of the order of a hundred billion bits of informati<img class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-208″ title=”Human Index Finger Points to New State of Evolution” src=”http://rwainternational.us/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/indexfingertouch.jpg” alt=”Human Index Finger Pointint to New State of Evolution” width=”225″ height=”150″ />on. Of course, the great majority of this information is garbage, and no use to any form of life. But, even so, the rate at which useful information can be added is millions, if not billions, higher than with DNA.”
This means Hawking says that we have entered a new phase of evolution. “At first, evolution proceeded by natural selection, from random mutations. This Darwinian phase, lasted about three and a half billion years, and produced us, beings who developed language, to exchange information.”
But what distinguishes us from our cave man ancestors is the knowledge that we have accumulated over the last ten thousand years, and particularly, Hawking points out, over the last three hundred.
“I think it is legitimate to take a broader view, and include externally transmitted information, as well as DNA, in the evolution of the human race,” Hawking said.
In the last ten thousand years the human species has been in what Hawking calls, “an external transmission phase,” where the internal record of information, handed down to succeeding generations in DNA, has not changed significantly. “But the external record, in books, and other long lasting forms of storage,” Hawking says, “has grown enormously. Some people would use the term, evolution, only for the internally transmitted genetic material, and would object to it being applied to information handed down externally. But I think that is too narrow a view. We are more than just our genes.”
The time scale for evolution, in the external transmission period, has collapsed to about 50 years, or less.