What will be the next intelligent species on Earth?

My fellow Mad-Scientist Americans,

If elected president, I will take a proactive view to diplomacy. How proactive? I’m going to start diplomatic relations with intelligent creatures that haven’t even evolved yet.

The history of life on Earth shows that intelligent creatures are more likely to win at the great game of Darwinist roulette. We human beings might have been the first on Earth to evolve the capability to tackle physics problems, paint cathedral ceilings, and attempt Sudoku puzzles, but there’s a good chance we won’t be the last.

So what species will be the next to join the big brain club? Here are the ones I’ll be watching over the next few million years:

 

Dolphins

Duh. Old news. Cetaceans are already there, and everyone (other than Japanese tuna fishermen) knows it. In fact, a recent study shows that they might average genius-level mathematics abilities. A fresh perspective on this might even help us tackle the sticky physics problems that human beings haven’t been able to crack for almost a hundred years.

 

Crows

Most people think of these birds as ugly, loud pests who will just make messes out of open garbage cans. But the truth is that they fill a niche amazingly similar to that of our ancestors: they are omnivorous hunter/gatherers with high problem solving intelligence, tight-knit communal organization, and a remarkable ability to communicate. Some authors and scientists have asserted that they have human-like intelligence. Did you know that they use tools? Did you know that they perform what appears to be mourning rituals over the bodies of their dead? Pick up a book on Crows and you might be amazed. I recommend Gifts of the Crow by Marzluff and Angell.

Don’t underestimate these black marvels of evolution, because they might just be the next species to help us develop new means of sustainable agriculture. Or how about space exploration: their small size and lightweight avian bones would make them much cheaper to launch into space, plus they’re naturally flight-ready and could make superior pilots.

 

Ants

Okay, insects are limited in their development capabilities for size and intelligence, but you never know what evolutionary breakthroughs could happen, especially when ants are already poised to rule the world. These six-legged picnic-raiders are so evolutionarily successful that it is said that all the ants in the world would weigh as much as all the people in the world. They are organized, disease resistant, highly productive, and skilled and complex communications (through chemicals rather than sound)—and did I mention organized?

Sentient ants (or even sentient queen ants) would be natural chemists and architects who could help us develop new drugs and new buildings. Having intelligent ants as allies could be a boon to our country and to the human world.

 

Jellyfish

Actually, I don’t hold out much hope for creatures without central nervous systems, but they might be our only hope if we humans keep dumping too much carbon into the atmosphere, because much of this carbon ends up in the ocean. If we keep going, no oxygen-breathing animal will be able to survive in the seas, and once the basis of the Earth’s food chain snuffs it, so will most everything on land. When that happens, jellyfish will be among the highest forms of life left on the planet—and they aren’t very high. We’d not only wipe ourselves out, we’d bump the earth back a couple billion years of evolution, too. Let’s hope that jellyfish aren’t our best hope for another sentient species.

 

Fantasy fiction often depicts multiple intelligent species sharing a world, but science fiction typically looks to other planets for sentient life. I say it’s time we shift our perspective to recognize the wonderful creatures who already share our world, now and in the future.

 

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About Sechin Tower

Sechin Tower is a teacher, game developer, and author of MAD SCIENCE INSTITUTE, a novel of creatures, calamities, and college matriculation. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
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