Intelligence augmentation – or IA – has been defined as follows:
“IA involves supplementing our own brain’s abilities using a range of different technologies.”
Richard Yonck, Foresight Analyst.
IA technologies can be of two sorts: mindhacking based, in which neuroplastic cognitive processes are deliberately trained or modified, or biohacking based in which physiological and biochemical processes are deliberately trained or modified.
Why is there a mushrooming interest in IA? Three factors contribute to this:
1. Cognitive capital
It is known that the practical advantage of having a high IQ increases as our work environments become more fluid and complex – that is novel, ambiguous, changing, rapid, unpredictable, or multifaceted. A high IQ is of high value for any strategic capacity, in which problem solving, decisions and self-control is needed to problem solve and make decisions in the midst of complexity. In rapidly changing work environments IQ is increasingly viewed as valuable ‘cognitive capital’, and there are market pressures to accumulate this capatial, much as there are market forces to accumulate social capital and financial capital.
2. Self-optimization & attaining personal potential
The ‘quantification of the self’ – in which cognitive and biological capacities such as IQ and sleep are measured and improved through feedback loops – is part of a growing movement to optimize personal performance and potential – both physically and cognitively. And interesting review of this movement can be found at this link.
3. Brain health and aging
The demographics of the world are changing fast – with greatly increasing proportions of older people resulting from increasing modernization and economic development. Aging is associated with some forms of cognitive decline,– as can be seen in this graph of how IQ sub-factors decline with age. Fluid intelligence (Gf – problem solving ability) and visuo-spatial intelligence (Gv) are highlighted. The most dramatic decline is in processing speed (Gs – top most curve).
In addition, with an aging population and increasing proportion of the population suffers from dementia. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s. In 2006, there were 26.6 million sufferers worldwide. Alzheimer’s is predicted to affect 1 in 85 people globally by 2050.
Thus due to the demographics of an aging population, tackling different forms of cognitive decline to ensure brain health has become a major cultural priority.
Mindhacks and Biohacks
There a number of mindhacking and biohacking fields that stand at the threshold of radical augmentation of human intelligence, which I will now review. The extent to which the augmentation of human intelligence becomes increasingly precious cognitive capital is a controversial, potentially yielding both benefits and abuses. Regardless of our feelings about it, we would be wise to anticipate the kind of future IA is likely to be a part of.
Computer hacking can be defined as:
“to be able to indirectly gain access to, and make personal use of, computer systems through skills, tactics and detailed knowledge.”
Analogously, mindhacking – or mindhacks – can be defined as:
“To be able to indirectly gain access to, and make personal use of, cognitive, motivational or emotional systems through skills, tactics and detailed knowledge”
Mindhacking techniques have been supported by far-reaching advances in behavioral & cognitive psychology, and cognitive neuroscience, over the past decade. More than ever in history, behavior can be conditioned, information processing mechanisms can be manipulated, and cognitive processes and can be trained and modified indirectly.
Recent gains in cognitive neuroscientific understanding of the link between pre-frontal working memory circuitry and problem solving ability and IQ have resulted in the development of scientifically based brain training software. This type of software selectively targets prefrontal neural networks, resulting in long term neuroplasticity changes increasing short term memory capacity, problem solving ability, self-control and overall IQ. The scientific basis for these powerful mindhacking methods is reviewed here. Advances by psychometricians working on the factors underlying performance on IQ and aptitude tests has also enabled targeted training of the five factors of IQ, incorporated in the i3 Mindware® software.
Brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs, are another type of IA being explored. A BCI gives a user the ability to control a computer or other device using only their thoughts. BCIs may also help with the treatment of brain disorders due to stroke, epilepsy or Alzheimer’s disease. There are also beginning to enhance cognitive functioning and intelligence. University of Pittsburgh scientists recently gave monkeys the ability to control a robotic arm to pick up food and bring it to their mouth just by thinking about it. Hair-like electrodes in a computer chip implanted in the monkey’s brains picked up nerve signals from the brain. Wires then carried the signals through the skull, and computer software converted the brain signals into a robotic arm’s movements. The world’s first human testing of a mind-controlled artificial limb has also now begun. A joint project between the Pentagon and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), the Modular Prosthetic Limb is fully controlled by sensors implanted in the brain, and can even restore the sense of touch by sending electrical impulses from the limb back to the sensory cortex. Together with the BCIs that have been developed for the operation of computer interfaces and wheelchairs, these technologies offer hope of a more interactive and embodied life to those with spinal cord damage.
Memory systems are also now benefiting from brain-computer enhancement. Scientists have just successfully developed an artificial hippocampus in a rat. The hippocampus is a brain structure which transfers short term memories to stable, long term memories. In a breakthrough study in June 2011, rat’s memories for how to access food with a lever were pharmacologically blocked so they lost their long term memory for this action. Long-term memory capability returned to the rats when the research team activated the prosthetic hippocampus, programmed to duplicate the memory-encoding function for that specific lever-pulling memory. The researchers went on to show that if a prosthetic device with its carefully wired up electrodes were implanted in animals with a normal, functioning hippocampus, the device could actually strengthen the memory trace being generated internally in the brain and improve the memory capability of normal rats.
This research all points to a day when our ability to plug in to computer devises to enhance cognitive functioning could become an everyday reality.
Pharmacological methods include nootropics. Nootropics – also known as smart drugs, memory enhancers, cognitive enhancers and intelligence enhancers – are drugs, supplements, nutraceuticals (a product isolated or purified from foods) that are designed to improve mental functions such as memory, motivation, attention and intelligence. Among these are Ampakines, tested by DARPA, an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technology for use by the military, in an effort to improve attention span and alertness of soldiers in the field, as well as facilitate their learning and memory. This focus compliments broader strategic goals, in which it the ‘information operations’ (IO) is now a core competence, along with air, ground, maritime and special operations. IO is defined by the Department of Defense as:
“The ability to control the information environment, including interrelated physical, informational, and cognitive dimensions, is now seen as vital to national security. And it is the cognitive dimension, in which “people think, perceive, visualize, and decide,” that is seen as most important.”
A substantial proportion of intelligence is considered to be heritable – estimates vary from 50-70% – and China has begun sequencing the genomes of 1,000 Chinese adults with IQs of 145 or higher. Therapeutic strategies to promote neuroplasticity and improve learning ability are also being explored by biochemical and genetic approaches. To quote from Richard Yonck:
A 2010 European Neuroscience Institute study found memory and learning in elderly mice restored to youthful levels when a cluster of genes was activated using a single enzyme. Several stem cell research studies offer hope not only for degenerative mental pathologies but also for restoring our ability to learn rapidly. In another study, mice exposed to the natural soil bacterium, Mycobacterium vaccae, found their learning rate and retention significantly improved, possibly the result of an autoimmune response. All of these suggest we’ve only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to improving or augmenting intelligence.
In summary our brief review makes clear that intelligence augmentation (IA) through a diversity of mindhacking and biohacking methodologies is now firmly on ‘the agenda’ of our Zeitgeist as we move into the 21st Century.