CEREBROSTHESIS: (from cerebral and prosthesis) n. An electronic device interfaced with the brain to overcome a neurological deficiency, such as normal human intelligence. (Cf. neuroprosthesis – see Extropy #7). [Mark Plus; August 1991]
NEUROPROSTHESIS: Implanted cybernetic brain augmentation.
Many of us wonder, is my brain achieving all it could achieve. Are there factors that affect how well your brain does its job? Does knowledge actually make you smarter? Or is it just data you spit out randomly. What about surgeries and drugs that could give you a competitive edge. On the physical level, we know relatively little about what makes one brain intelligent compared to another, there’s no one bit of structure or bit of biochemistry that we can point to and say “there’s the smart bit”. Here’s what we do know, differen brain sections are responsible for different functions, like language, movemnet, and memory. Information is passed around the brain by neurons and synapses. Where neurons are electrically excitable cells and synapses ar ethe connections between them. When you are defveloping, these grow at an astonishing rate. You create 1300 neurons and 700,000 every second. This is your DNA rapidly coding that giant computer brain. Scientists actually disected Einstein’s brain after he died obviously. One of the structural differences they found was that he had a noticeably higher ratio of Glia to Neurons. Glial cells are a different kind of brain cell that support the neurons. This indicates that there may be some quantifiable difference in the brains of smart people, but we still don’t know for sure. So for now, wefocus more on ability tests rather than the brain’s actual physical structure to measure intelligence. Francis Galton was an English statistician, he was the first person to develop some kind of standardized test for gauging a person’s intelligence. He expected to find a correelation between intellect and other factors like reflexes, muscle grip, and head size. But if this were true, LL Cool J (or the rock, MY IDEA) would be the world’s smartest man, as he’s basically a watermelon with bear paws. In the 1940s, psychologist raymond cuttel layed out the idea of 2 main types of intelligence. “Fluid” and “Crystalized”. “Fluid” was the ability to react to new situations and solve novel problems. “Crystallized” intelligence involves using skills and knowledge that you already have, it’s not the same as memoriy but it will rely on longterm memory for things like vocabulary and science. John L Horne and John B Caroll added further elements and the Catal-Horn-Caroll theory was born, and it is the basis for most current IQ testing. The average IQ is 100, with the huge majority of people between 70 and 130, a score above 130 is considered gifted, and above 144 is genius level. William James Sidis was supposed to have had the highest IQ of all time, with a possible number of 300. He entered Harvard for mathematics in 1910 and just 11 years old. So where does smartness come from? This is the big Nature vs Nurture question. If you take a child of 22 knuckldragging morons and give it to genius academics, will that child grow into a genius orveer a bonehead? We used to think the bond was 50 50 between the 2 factors, but as more evidence appears, we see that genetics is by FAR the most important factor in how smart a child can become. Robert Ploman, working at Kings college london, ran the Colorado Adoption Project, which began back in 1975. For over 30 years they tracked adopted children, their adopted parent s and biological parents to see where the most influence came from in terms of intelligence. They also used control families, where kids were used by biological dfamilies. In the control groups they had a strong correlation between parents and children IQs. But with the adopted children, there is exactly the same correlation to their biological parent and ZERO correlation of their intelligence with their adoptive parents. The people who actually raised them. So, smart adoptive parents are NOT able to raise a smart adopted child IF the biological parents of that child aren’t smart ot begin with. No matter what the Adoptive parents do. You cant teach an old ddog new tricks or a stupid kid to play piano. Once more it seems that most of your personality is also genetic, so things like being introverted and extroverted come from your DNA not your home environment, So is nurture completely irrelevant? No. Our enivronment still hjas a big influence, especially in terms of behavior. But psychologist Judith Rich Harris believes that we have been focusing on the wrong part of it. The purpose of childhood is to prepare us to be an adult.and being an adult does not require us to get up with your parents, its preferable. It’s your peers that influence your behavior the most, that’s why the children of immigrants will speak like the local population, not like mom and dad. Habits like smoking and drinking are normally picked up from peers, but a disposition to addiction is passed down epigenetically. Which is why parents who smoke often have children who smoke too, they are not copying their parents, they usually start smoking with their peers that makes them hopelessly addicted. If you want to try and give your brain a boost, you can’t mess with your genetics. So I’m sorry to say you’re kind of limited to what you were given, but you CAN improve your crystallized intelligence and a thing called your working memory, which helps your fluid intelligence to function as well as possible. Much like the gym, the more effort you put in, the better results you get out. So slip your brain into some spandex and make sure you work it out every day. Challenge yourself as often as you can and try to do things the hard way, like working out your own route on a map rather than just following the blue arrow on your GPS.
We can reach a point where we might have neural implants, maybe you want to see outside the visible specrtrum of light? Ever wonder what ionfrared looks like? Ultraviolet? Or a cochlear implant so you can hear beyond the edges of human hearing, or maybe even a processor so the next difficult math problem isn’t so hard once you switch a couple cores on up there and you solve it with ease. Maybe we get to a point where we take our entire brains and put them into a digital pframework.We’re talking digital immortality, while our human shell dies, our intelligence lives on. Or hey, maybe we just create a restore point so the next time you have an unpleasent experience you just restore to the last saved game and play the level all over again, but in real life.
How about a brain upgrade to make you smarter. The main focus of the human genome was all in on our brains. Take a look back 2 million years at our homonid ancestor homo habilis, who had a brain case volume of 600 cubic cm, today the average person has between 1200 and 1300 cubic cm, that’s more than twice the volume, and our brains only take up 2% of our body weight but they require 20% of our body resting energy. other creatures look at us like we’re aliens. Now it’s important to remember, humans are not necessarily at the end of their evolutioonary path. So is there some way we can boost our intelligence within our own lifetimes. Lots of studies show that a change in lifestyle can help boost brain power. For example, aerobic exercise promotes stem cell growth in the hippocampus, the part of the brain concerned with memory. Then there could be improvements in nutrition that help our brain power. Best evidence for this is when the US introduced iodine salt and saw the average IQ increase by 3 and a half points. Now you may have guessed that these changes mean modest improvements in our intelligence, so is there any way wwe can turn it up to 11. One way is to look at something that is pretty counterintuitive, and that is brain damage, I’m talking about an extremely rare and highly contrversial condition called “acquired savant syndrome”, this happens as a result to a head injury or a neurodegenerative disease. The person suddenly becomes a genius or discovers an ability to do something incredible like, sculpture or playing music. So, how did they get that ability. Some scientists think we have locked gates in our brains that hold back our abilities, and that the injury or condition has unlocked those gates and allowed the people who have acquired savant syndrome to do these things. Maybe, by using techniques like fMRI, we could learn more about the condition and perhapds in the future, even learn ways to unlock those gates without actually causing brain damage. Now its time to talk about brain implants. Computers and brains do similar things, but they go about in a very different way, so if ewe can get brains and computers to communicate more easily, we could see a quantum leap in human intelligence. We’ve already made some progress, paralysis patients with brain implants have been able to control robotic prostheses and get this, in 2012, researchers with USC and Whitehorse made a brain implant for the cerebral cortex of rhesus monkeys. They taught the monkeys how to play a picture matching puzzle game, then they gave the monkeys drugs that manage their performance, they then activated the implants, they then activated the implants, the implants stimulate the part of the monkey’s brain that was activated whenever it made a correct choice. And they saw that the lost mental acquity was regained. Now granted most of this research is all about recapturing brain function that’s been lost. Its not about amplifying what we already have, but in the future we could see this tech boosting our intelligence and giving us new choices. Like, you wanna be a great scientist? Well lets just turn down the part of the brain that’s in charge of confirmation bias. Or you just wanna be a better human being, let’s boost that altruistic behavior.
It lies in the human mind. It brings insight, sparks artistic inspiration. Its the gift to see what others can’t. But is genius only for a rare few? Or do we all have untapped potential? Now Neuroscientists begin to unleash our minds hidden powers, engineering eureka moments. Augmenting biology with technology to unlock the genius inside us all. Genius has many facets, from remarkable memory , to inspiration, to invention. But what about you? as neuroscientists uncover the secrets of our brains, we’re beginning to unlock the hidden talents in every one of us. We won’t all start witb Einstein’s mind, but why can’t we all become geniuses. So can we engineer ourselves to get savant syndrome, can we get the same changes in our own brains? That’s what U of Miami neuroscientists Brit Brolgaard wanted to find out, she scanned Jason’s brain while he reviewed a sequence of equations. She found that his brain rewired itself after his injury. Most people use both hemispheres to process mathematics. But Jason’s brain relies on newly formed neural circuits exclusively in his left brain,they triggered connectvitiy in other areas of his brain and allowed those areas to communicate in ways not possible before. These unsual patterns of brain activity triggered Jason’s geomentrical vision, a form of a condition called Synesthesia. There are different forms of synesthesia, someone with color synesthesezia might sense numbers as patches of different colors. Person with smell synesthesia might hear music and might smell the scent of brewed coffee. Jason’s synesthezsia combines mathematics with a sense of sight, so when he sees anything, he instantly sees its undferlying geometry. Its as if he has xray vision revealing mathematics that underpins the entire world. It often enhances your cognitive abilities, synesthesia is sort of a key to unlock unconscious automatic areas of the brain. We all have the potential to unlock these abilities without a blow to the head. She’s finding promising results in a psycadelic drug called psilocybin, its the ingredient in magic mushrooms that makes them magical. In experiments we use it in a pure form where its isolated to control the amount we give to subjects, it supercharges the brain to handle more sensory information, the result is a synesthesia like experience where test subjects percieve an explosion of patterns and colors, triggered by senses other than sight. Synesthesia that isnt typically induced is sound to color synesthesia, people hear colors in some sense, but the mechanism underylying that may be the same. IOf we can develop legal versions of drugs like psilocybin, many of us might discover that we have exceptional mental abilities. In principle we can all become geniuses by rewire our brain, but you should definitely not go out and hit your head or abuse drugs. Alber Einstein had a passion of music, he had his biggest theory, the theory of relativity as a musical perception.Can we make eureka events happen on cue? Inspiration strikes at odd moments, einstein dreamed up relativity on a train. Could we create the environmental conditions for eureka moments.
MIND AUGMENTATION: New neural enhancement, These incliude neurosurgery, advanced education methods, and cybernetic implants. As to intelligent enhancement, we could have increasements to general intelligence or a massive increase to one type. Such as making someone a savant, maybe even an autiostic savant if that increase came from devoting othwer parts of the mind to assisit. We might even speed up how fast an individual thinks or give them inplants that helpp with some task or even network minds together if we develop a brain-machine interface with enough bandwidth. That last one in its most extreme form is called a Hive Mind. It could be anything from a limited network like a human community is, up to some connection so extreme that it replaces individual components with a single new entity in much the same way you and i are people and our kidneys, livers, and stomachs are not. One of the ways to augment a mind is presumably hooking up to computers, directly interfaced into the head or just wirelessly interfacing with them. Such an auugmentation could be so integral to you that you considered it part of your mind. Or it might be clearly serperate from your mind but still be part of you, smae as your hands or eyes. Or it could be more serpate yet, like a tool or garmet, lime your shoes or a screwdriver. There’s a fair number of examples of this in fiction, but im fond of the term “E-Butler” from Peter Hamilton’s Commonwealth saga, which is a smart but non-sentient computer assistant, most folks have among their mental implants. Its clever enough to help with tons of tasks so it is somewhere between a personal secretary and a smart phoen. So it is in your head and it is customized to you. It could just as easily aslo be a seperate entity entirely an artificial intelligence. If I gave you a mental implant that allowed you to access the contents of an entire encyclopedia most would say that WAS mind augmentation, as mere knowledge is not intellignece. We would consideri it augmentation if it was integrerated thouroughly enough into your brain that you could shuffle through the contents of it as casually as we can shuffle through our emmorioes of some topical skill we have and allow us to applly that knowledge easily. Analogies between computers and brains are tricky but are common because its our only option, where a computer ends is hard to define., You could limit it just to the processor. But you can’t have more than one of those. Or maybe just the stuff on the motherboard. Or just inside the case like the skull. The hard drive counts but then an external hard drive would not. What about the monitor and other peripherals like the keyboard and mouse? Our brain is a bit like that. The skull, like the compiuter case, is not an entirely arbitrarily boundry, but its also not an ideal one, and the mind is even hazier than the brain. Sticking an implant in there isn’t automatically making it part of your mind any more than if I stick a needle in there and if we removed part of your brain and stuck it in a support system connected by wires to the stuff still in your skull, we’d say that’s still your mind. Something like modifying our spinal cords to accelerate our reflexes through relfex conditioning, or actively tapping into the mottor neurons and interneurons, might beconsidered mind augmentation, even though our brain has nothing to do with it. Or simply body modification. Again, where you draw the boundires is a gray area. Obviously enhancing your memory would count as augmenting the mind. And if you record everything you experience with cameras and a decent indexing system. You can achieve fairly similar results. Again there’s a hazy boundry between a useful tool and an actual mental augemntation. As to memory enhancement, that comes in a lot of forms too. Better storage of course, bigger hard drives, faster recall, better search and indexing methods, higher resolution of those images or sounds or smells you remember. Stronger association of various relevant memories and so on. Tr to remember te last time ou took a test on paper. Migt ave been esterday, but it might have been a lot longer. It would be great to have a photographic memory and never to have to foget any of the knowledge we’ve lkearned. We could recall not just the information but maybe even re-live good events and memoreies just like you were there. It could be dangerous too, not only could you get stuck re-living negative or traumatic events, but you could get stuck in our pleasent igh school memories forever. Such thongs tend to dim wit time, but imagine evertime you saw a blue sedan, you remember vividly the time you creashed your blue sedan and were stuck tere for 20 minutes until the fireman cut you free, that would be awful. so would fresl remembering the loss of a famil member or friend like it appened esterda. Mind augmentations can come with some serious downsoides. Even knowing the side effects they could have. A positive might come at the price of a negative, but sometimes aving a new skill or talent can comie with negatives. Learn a lot of science and some sciencefiction isnt as fun to watch anymore. Gte better hearing and a street musician striking some off cords might grate on you like nails on a chalkboard so you might want tot be able to dial down or swtich off some augmentation. More importantly the brain is not a processor with carefully designed software. We talk of the architecture of the human mind like we do software architecture, but that’s a dubious term. Your brain certainly has structure to it. Biut in the same way a forest or jungle does. Much like an ecosystem can have massive changes from mild tweaks, the human mind and personality might be very sensititve to mild changes. So early augmentation might want to avoid messign much with the augmentation of our minds. You can also go for non-mind augmentation, like just hijacking the optic nerve to send information through you as a visual input and others to serve as an output, both to other devices that do some work. You could go the neural lace route, something that does not alter thinking but pretty much is a net of detectors woven thoroughout the mind to read your thoughts, send that data for processing, and send it back as an input. Another option is to augment reflexes using the comparitively much simpler neural pathways in the spinal cord. Or bypass the spinal cord completely, as is currently being developed ffor people with spinal injuries. You could make someone smarter without messing with that architecture, two of the methods are just making it bigger, or speeding it up. We see both examples in books by alastair reynolds. Though one is in a sequal to the book of the month, and the other is in a stand alone novel. For the former, speeding it up, you could potentially replace all the slow signal transmission lines in the brain, whioch move anywhere from walking speed to bullet speed with stuff that movees at the speed of light. Speed Intelligence, One of the 3 types of superintelligence identitfied by Nick Bostrom in his cbook “superintelligence”, the other two types being networked intelligence, which is hive minds, and quality intelligence, which is a hazy concept but basically the reason why you are better at many tasks than a room full of monkeys, evemn though they’ve got more combined brain matter than you do. A sci fi author Dennis E. Taylor, calls accelerating thought speed “framejacking ” in his “we are bob” novels. I like the term so i’ll borrow it for the notion of speeding your thoughts up but not constantly, just as much as is needed at that time. This is essentially how fast you are experiencingtime. Frame jacking would tend to drive you nuts if you were always existing at a time rate qwhere seconds seem to take hours to pass. So while you might be conmforatable running a bit faster than normal all the time, you probably won’t want to speed up very fast for more than short periods. Also, by in large, you;’d expect everyone else to have this and for a new standard pace to develop. This is clearly beneficial too. Being able to crank people’s brains up to run a million times faster obviously helps with scientific research a lot. And you have way less accidents if folks can respond almost instantly to them. But it would start messing with our concept of time alot too. If someone tells you they were born in 1980 and the other says they were born in 1987 and you know one is 7 years younger than te other. But the fellow born in 1987 might have experienced a couple centirues of thought last year. These are the same issues we experience with relativistic travel, where time genuionely slows down for the traveler, or freezing people in sci fi. You could have someone who went around on a space ship that hugged the speed of light. So whole decades might pas during their journey while they only experienced a year or so, and they could be engaging in interstellar trade for centureies but only feel like they’ve been in the business for a few years. Or they might accelerate their consciousness, frame-jack, to experience the dsame amount of time that has passed in the outside world, or even more of it. It’s an interest for soldiers too, sci fi loves tank grown supersoldiers you could punmp out in months from some cloning vat, but tends to ignore that they aren’t getting much training in tat time. Fully grown or not, a 2 mont old is a two month old. They aren’t even talking or walking. If you can speed up their thoughts though, You can teach them faster. Or just take regular people and hand them some books on the topic and tell them to read them now. Obviously it needs to be an electronic book or better virtual simulation with hands-on training. But now they suddenly know the skill. Doesn’t feel like its them though because they did actually spend the time to learn it. You might expect everyone with this option would go and try to learn everything. But first off. Most people do have plenty of free time and still don’t hit the books to learn skills they don’t need at the moment. Second, this is one pathway to extreme life extension. You only live maybe a century in real time, but experience thousands of years of subjective time. And while we’re keeping to a basic human mental architecture, even if we can extend their useful memory so their brain does not fill up or overwrite old memories, there’s a cost to life. Firstly, you probably want to get paid more for an hour spent frame jacking than at t anormal speed, since you are experienceing it. So ideas about being paid by the hour changes. Living 20,000 subjective years when you’re pysically 20, might seem like a gradual change made to your mind over subjective years that mean stuff, while you sat down on the couch for a few minutes. But to everyone else, it won’t be the least bit gradual. Do you think if we stuck you in a slow time pocket for a century in a library to read, you would emerge the same person as far as your friends were concerned. All that new knowledge, probably even talking differently. How do you feel about the spouse you married and haven’t really talked to from your perspective in a decade. and how do they feel about you ubnderstanding that you might get very touchy about frame-jacking a lot. So speed intelligence is a promising path to mind augmentation, but not without its problems. The nicer path when you just want it form learning is to copy all the information over. But the brain, anything functioning on neural network concept, is not particularly suited to copy and paste. There’s a big difference between photographing a book page and actually learning it’s contents, absorbing it and doing all the new wiring and indexing so ou can recall and utilize it. The last aspect though returns the continuity of identity issue. With something like speed intelligence you are just being canged gradually from your own perspective, but suddenly spiking someone’s intelligence up 20 IQ points probably changes them profoundly, and pumping them up to hundreds of times smarter than the normal person, ought to change their psychology more than going from standard primate to human. Lots of people might not like that even if they want to be that smart. Because they might seriously doubt they were that smart, that we have an entirely new entity and they cease to exist. Folks also sometimes kick around the notion, that what we consider intelligence is sort of a form of insanity. We don’t know that getting smarter might ot be a very bad thing. People worry about civlizations being too dumb to siurvive, or getting dumber and dying off. But getting smarter might get you too. You could potnentially have a civilization fall apart simply because its members were so smart, they were constantly being overwhelmed by existential criseses, they might get depressed or conclude free will and existence were logically impossible or pointless. But were too smart to ignore it or rationalize a way around it and just sit down and shut off. A popular notion is that civlizations run on a lot of stupidity, and it seems like if it were true, then one with a lot of mind augmentation might fall apart. Perrsonally, I dont see it that way, but then if i didnt think that majking people smarter was almost always a good thing, i wouldnt spend so much time leanring myself or teaching, so i might be biased, and ediucation itself is the oldest method of mind augmentation and has a very good track record of persformance.I think we will see mind augmentation of various types and levels startt showing up in the next few decades and id expect it to have possitive effects overall. Another example of augmentation is just majing the brain bigger but keeping the same overall architecture. It has the downside of slowing things down. We get an example of Alastair Reynold’s “House of Suns”, where the protagonist spends a decade talking to a human giant with a massive head who is incredibly smart but slow. It takes hours for them to send around all the mental signals between all those many neurons, and formulate a simple thought. but its not a very simple thought either. It has to go slow too, because everyttime you fire a neuron you generate heat and your radiating surface is not scaling up with value and quantity. Double the skull’s diamter and you get 8 times the value in neurons, but only 4 times the radiation surrface to cool it down. Now, we don’t have a lot of technical details yet, on how we can achieve mind augmentation, but whatever way we do that, that last point brings us to the familiar terroitory of having to deal with the laws of thermodynamocs. We get an example of folks who’ve had cooling fans to start to help dissapiate heat from thinking faster. In another of alastair reynold’s novels, you can see why i like him. When we talk about really speeding up intelligence alot, that heating issue is a abig one. But come to think of it, restrictions on technology imposed by heat and thermodynamics is probably one of the most commmon opbstancles i point out on this channel, probably because it gets ignored in sci fi so much. We do have supercomputers these days that are finally powerful enouygh that they process as fast as our estimates for the human mind, which is still several million times faster than your typical home computer. These things are gluttons for power, and every watt of energy they use has to emit as heat. Your brain uses and gives off heat on par with an energy saving light bulb, about 20 watts. A good supercomputer produces thousands of times more heat to do way less. Even ovcercoming the scaling issue and being able to create a computer that would fit into the skull alongside the brain, would not solve the heat issue, and it gets worse. Recene tresearch on thermoregulation of the brain has shown that a achange in temperature of only a couple dgerees has a very detrimental effect on our ability to think. A mobile phone consumes abnout 5 watts of power, it is very dumb in comparison with a supercomputer, but even at that low power level, that’s a quarter of our brain’s usualy heat output, we have to be very careful not to overstep our body’s ability to dissipate that heat. This is interesting because while we can doubtless keep improveing how much energy we need to spend per calculation and thus decrease the heat we need to get rid of, it does indicate something about the speed-intelligence approach. The higher your frame-ajck the more heat you’re going to produce, so the shorter period of time you could do it if it’s beyond your regular heat dissipation level. Whatever that is, even if your computers or artifical brain is so efficient it can runa million times faster than a human brain constantly, you can’t presumably briefly push it higher than that. Not only is speed intelligence probably thre easiest path to pursue for major mind augmentation, it’s also the easiest to explain that these relative bursts of speed, frame-jacking would be a major aspect of that. One potential silution to the thermodynampics probelm is to move the bulk of the thermodynamics processing outside of the skull. This could be moved to a chip imbedded elsewhere in the body, or carried around on a pocket sized computer, or even offsite, that you talk to over a network. This does raise the issue of communications outages. Where it is completely removed from the body and still imposes some limits on heat dissipation when housed elsewhere on the body. Current performance gaming computer rigs and supercomputers have moved to liquid cooling solutions because heat can be removed from the hot areas of the computer, much more easily than radiating or convecting that heat away close to those hot areas. The human body is already set up to be a liquid cooled radiatior of heat, and we could increase the flow of blood to the brain or other parts of the body and use other parts of our body to dump out the excess heat through sweating and opening the blood vessels under the skin. This means mind augmentation could become a combination of brain and physiological augmentation whrre the two are inextricably linked. The more heat that can be didssipated by passing more blood through the skull and other implanted areas, the longer the person can be framejacked and the faster they can think. Whatever system we ultimately adopt for mind augmentation, we’ll need to adress not only the interface with the mind, but also its ophysiological, social, and thermodynamic consequences. We’ve only touched on some of the concepts for mind augmentation and not alot of the mechanics. This are still emerging and we are still novices when it comes to understanding brains, thought and cognition.
CARBON NANOTUBES ACT AS BRIDGES BETWEEN THE NEURON
- Institutes like the Cognitive Genomics Project are working to identify the genetic origins of our intelligence.
- Once genes that influence intelligence are identified, tools like gene editing and IVF could be used to make us smarter.
The gene editing technology CRISPR/Cas9 has paved a new path forward for us – from eliminating disease and fixing pests, to restoring lost abilities – the process is expected to graduate us into a new age of medicine. But it begs the question, can we make ourselves better? Can we improve our intelligence in the advent of gene engineering?
The answer might just be a resounding yes.
The Cognitive Genomics Project is focused on understanding the origin of intelligence within our own genome. It’s lead by BGI, a non-profit research group based in Shenzhen, China, that was founded in 1999. The organization is currently conducting a gene-trait association study of g, a general factor of intelligence. General intelligence is defined by three prominent categories: stability, heritability, and predictive powers. In short, the study is collecting genetic data from over 20,000 individuals who have an IQ above 150, and looking for patterns in their genes.
While this might seem relatively straightforward, it’s actually a complex and difficult task. That’s because general intelligence does not follow mendelian, single-gene genetics. Researchers cannot simply look for specific mutations in specific genes, as they do for diseases like Huntington’s Disease or Cystic Fibrosis. Rather, intelligence is more similar to traits like eye color and hair color that involve multiple genes in inheritance patterns that we are just beginning to understand.
NO GENE EDITING NEEDED?
It remains to be seen how effective gene editing can be at influencing traits like personality and intelligence in people whose brains have already been formed. One way we could avoid the gene editing process entirely is by genetically designing intelligence into our children from conception. We could utilize in vitro fertilization and carefully process the genetic information of each embryo produced for genetic preferences.
If the Cognitive Genomics Project provides significant data supporting the correlation between particular parts of the genome and intelligence, then parents can look for these genetics sequences in potential embryos and select the embryos with the desired traits. This method would increase the probability of intelligent children without having to edit particular genome sequences.
While the ethics of human genetic engineering continue to be debated, we may be closer to a more intelligent humanity than ever before.
Speaking of brains, this brings us to mental augmentation. Now we’ve discussed this before, and we’ve also discussed the general difficulty in contemplating what we mean by intelligence and asugmenting it. So we’ll bypass that today. It’s easy to imagine being smarter, but also very hard to be smarter so to speak. But what we can imagine is integrating electronics and computers into the mind. Our brans are phenomenally powerful. But they are tuned towards certain tasks and not designed with many things in mind that are helpful nowadays. The ability to add or multiply 8 digit numbers is something the most primitve electronic calculator could do in an instant. It’d also be nice to enter a room and instantly know how many folks were in that room and what are their names. Not just have that data show up on your augmented vision, but to actually know it. Search functions of all your sensory recordings would be handy too. It’s a chilly day and you want your green sweater, but going back and looking through every recording of the last year trying to find when you last saw it doesnt help much. That is actually something we are very good at. Our brains can search our memories quickly, but the ability to recall things from years back with crystal clarity and to do it quick and easy, like the relevant memory, is a masive advantage. On the more extreme end of things, being able to mke our cells smarter, make it so we can truly see 50 colors, not just red green and blue cones, make it so you aren’t zooming in with your eyes to see things far away or small, but actually having visual resolution that high would require some big changes and improvements to our brains themelves, not just some chip that can see you are pictureing your green sweater, knowing you wasnt to find it, then run searches of digital recordings through your memory. These more extreme forms of augmentations are worht considering because many of us will probably live to see a lot of this come to be. Many of these things are emerging right now.
SYNAPTIC PLASTICITY (UPLOAD SKILLS TO THE HUMAN BRAIN)
MINDHACK FOR FASTER LEARNING
In March 2016, DARPA — the U.S. military’s “mad science” branch — announced their Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT) program. The TNT program aims to explore various safe neurostimulation methods for activating synaptic plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to alter the connecting points between neurons — a requirement for learning. DARPA hopes that building up that ability by subjecting the nervous system to a kind of workout regimen will enable the brain to learn more quickly.
The ideal end benefit for this kind of breakthrough would be downloadable learning. Rather than needing to learn, for example, a new language through rigorous study and practice over a long period of time, we could basically “download” the knowledge after putting our minds into a highly receptive, neuroplastic state. Clearly, this kind of research would benefit anyone, but urgent military missions can succeed or fail based on the timing. In those situations, a faster way to train personnel would be a tremendous boon.
FIRST NEUROSTIMULATION, THEN APPLICATION
As part of the TNT program, DARPA is funding eight projects at seven institutions. All projects are part of a coordinated effort that will first study the fundamental science undergirding brain plasticity and will conclude with human trials. The first portion of the TNT program will work to unravel the neural mechanisms that allow nerve stimulation to influence brain plasticity. The second portion of the program will practically apply what has been learned in a variety of training exercises.
To ensure the work stays practical, foreign language specialists, intelligence analysts, and others who train personnel now will work with researchers to help refine the TNT platform to suit military training needs. Researchers will compare the efficacy of using an implanted device to stimulate the brain versus non-invasive stimulation. They will also explore both the ethics of enhanced learning through neurostimulation and ways to avoid side effects and potential risks.
“The Defense Department operates in a complex, interconnected world in which human skills such as communication and analysis are vital, and the Department has long pushed the frontiers of training to maximize those skills,” Doug Weber, the TNT Program Manager, said in a DARPA press release. “DARPA’s goal with TNT is to further enhance the most effective existing training methods so the men and women of our Armed Forces can operate at their full potential.”
If the TNT program succeeds, striving to be all you can be may mean learning at a much faster pace, and not just for military personnel. Downloadable learning may be one of the ways we achieve next-level humanity.
CARBON NANOTUBES ACT AS BRIDGES BETWEEN THE NEURON
We’re all familiar with using a splint to provide support so a broken limb can heal itself over time – but how about a splint that fits between the nerve cells in your brain? A new groundbreaking study in the journal Science Advances reveals that small “bridges” of multiple carbon nanotubes formed together to make a “sponge” support the growth of nerve fibers and can even connect individual nerve networks that have previously been severed.
These neural bridges do not appear to cause any major scarring, nor do they provoke a damaging and self-destructive immune response. The hybrid between neurons and nano-materials could eventually culminate in their use as implants for those suffering from neurodegenerative diseases, potentially helping to restore some motor function to those afflicted by them.
“These materials could be useful for covering electrodes used for treating movement disorders like Parkinson’s because they are well accepted by tissue, while the implants being used today become less effective over time because of scar tissue,” Laura Ballerini, a professor at the Italy-based International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA) and chief coordinator of the study, said in a statement. “We hope this encourages other research teams with multidisciplinary expertise to expand this type of study even further.”
Carbon nanotubes are cylindrical carbon-based nanostructures, with diameters being on average 4 nanometers – just slightly thicker than a strand of human DNA. They are formed by rolling up 1-atom-thick sheets of carbon known as graphene, a veritable wonder material that is highly conductive to both heat and electricity.
It is this extraordinary ability to conduct electricity along with their flexible, strong, minuscule form that makes them the perfect material to connect neurons together, which are essentially biochemical structures that communicate with each other using electrical signals. These nanotubes have previously been used to connect someone’s nervous system with a touch-sensitive artificial skin, but this team wanted to implant the tubes into a neuronal network itself.
Comparing two 14-day-long cultured neural networks – the control (left), where the gap was left unfilled, and the far more connected version (right) featuring nanotube sponges. Usmani et al./Science Advances
First off, they wanted to see what would happen when a carbon nanotube bridge was added to nerve tissue in vitro, meaning that it was not still part of the original host organism.
Specifically, two spinal cord segments were grown in a laboratory setting, but they were separated by a distance of 0.3 millimeters (0.012 inches). When allowed to grow on their own, they formed nerve fibers that extended in straight bundles in multiple directions, but not necessarily towards each other.
When several carbon nanotubes, taking the shape of a “sponge” structure, were inserted within the small gap, “bridging it”, most of the outgrowing fibers used it as a connecting pathway and the two spinal cord segments were interlinked before long.
In order to demonstrate that both populations of neurons could transmit signals to each other, the team applied an electrical signal to one of the cords, which was successfully transferred across the nanotube sponge along to the second. However, this wasn’t enough to prove their viability in living organisms.
Implanting carbon nanotube sponges within the brains of healthy, live rodents, the team noticed that, after four weeks, there was an insignificant immune system response, low levels of scarring, and, most importantly, a progressive “invasion” of neurons within the sponge.
At the very least, this shows that these nanotubes are easily accepted as part of their brains’ neural networks. Perhaps it won’t be long before the same can be said of humans