Life got a foothold on Earth a long, long time ago. The first signs of life appeared barely a billion years after the planet congealed out of the elemental gas and dust and rock left over from the Sun’s formation five billion years ago.
However, life then spent almost the entire period since creating nothing more complex than algae, before finally conditions were right for Earth to bring forth all sorts of cool stuff like trilobites and dinosaurs and insects and Steve.
And among the countless hundreds of millions of different species on Earth, exactly one has developed complex language, tool use and technology. And the general thinking is that there are other species which are smart (dolphins, crows), or are great at delicately manipulating objects with prehensile bits of their bodies (marmosets, moose), but only a few that have both qualities.
Elephants do, and apes. And, perhaps most of all, octopi.
And we should notice that, because they’re so very much better than humans in almost every way imaginable.
They have better eyes. They have their brain spread out through their entire body. They can squeeze though any space big enough for their beak to fit. They regenerate when wounded. They can change colour and texture in milliseconds to the point that you could be surrounded by them RIGHT NOW and have no idea.
And they watch, and they learn.
Stories about octopi escaping from labs and aquaria are legion, if often wildly exaggerated, but what’s not in doubt is that they can look at things in their environment and go “hey, I can totally use that.”
You know, like people do.
So what’s preventing them from overthrowing us and becoming the planet’s dominant species? There are a few things.
One suggestion is that it’s hard to see an obvious path to technological society without dabbling in the useful properties of fire, which is a big ask for an aquatic species. Another is that octopi don’t play well together, with many species tending to eat one another rather than team up to take on us land-jerks.
But the biggest reason is probably the most practical: they die real quick.
Even the mighty giant Pacific octopus is estimated to cark it at around the five year mark. And I’ve dealt with a lot of five year olds in my time – I was one myself for about 12 months – and much of their technology is strongly cardboard and paint-based. They pose little threat.
But evolution is nothing if not unpredictably zany.
All we need is one tiny random tweak to the right octopus gene – a mutation which is perhaps happening right now in our fathomless deeps – and suddenly we could be facing a long-lived species of camouflaged stealth hunters waiting with giant brains and time on their hands (tentacles?), just waiting for the sea levels to rise and make our largest cities the domain of the Kraken.
So we should keep poisoning the oceans the way we’re doing, is what I’m saying. Think of it as a pre-emptive strike.