Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cognitive enhancement

Cognitive enhancement could come in two forms; it could help us think faster or improve our memory. We would have more of what we already have. It could also allow our minds to work in entirely new ways that we could never imagine with our current puny brains.

Both seem likely to me. We are all evolved from the same little clay crystal or electrified methane molecule (or whatever) that had less capacity for empathy or abstract thought than most of us today and we aren't so great that we couldn't be further improved.

One of the possible arguments against cognitive enhancement is that it would probably be expensive and thus out of reach to the poor; this would increase inequality. People who dislike discussing IQ and the fact that it is correlated with income will surely not like cognitive enhancement.

I don't want to downplay the challenges raised by a cognitively enhanced elite, but here are some thoughts. Most innovations were initially available to the rich. TV's cost more than cars when they first appeared and however crap you think today's TV is, it was worse then. But now most poor people have access to TV and it isn't seen as bad for inequality. The same is true for plenty other innovations, especially medical advances. Money incentive helps these things being invented in the first places which is surely good.

I often hear complaints that people lack the imagination or empathy to fully realise the plight of the very poor. I would guess that the same people would be suspicious of cognitive enhancement. Our increased capacity should help us better understand the plight of the poor and be better equipped to do sensible things about it.

Or would we only enhance the money making parts of our mind?


Andrea said...

It seems to me that the people who do not understand the poor(the rick people) probably don't do so because they can't but more because they don't WANT to. So, it would seem logical that they would be more content with remaining ignorant and not investing in cognitive enhancement!

Sorry so out of touch Stu-actually been doing some work for a change!

stuart said...

i agree that many people prefer not to think about nasty things like poverty.

cognitive enhancement will have enormous financial benefits for some people, so there will always be an incentive.

emotional enhancement will possibly be a part of the enhancment, so people will have a natural tendency to me more empathetic.

becoming smarter should make us less tolerant of intellectual sloppiness.

I guess we could also become better at rationalising our nasty behaviour!

Anonymous said...

I wonder in what way they would make us smarter. In all possible ways? maths, geometry, sport, music, language, logic, creative writing, wit, organisational skills, art, insight, emotional intelligence..... Or maybe you could pick and choose what you'd like?

I think that becoming smarter definitely doesn't mean becoming more compassionate. Do you think there is a strong correlation??? Also if you want to be come smarter to be richer, you probably don't want to be more compassionate because then you're likely to care less about making money and more about other people.

stuart said...

we would probably have a better memory and process information faster to start with, so we would most likely improve on all fronts.

eventually we could start to think in ways that we can't imagine now.

"Do you think there is a strong correlation???"

I didn't mean to imply this, but part of cognitive enhancement could involve emotional enhancement. I think most people would find that desirable.

Besides, I think our lack of concern for others is deeply rooted in our evolutionary past, i think it would be nice to move past that.

cristi said...

I think if humans were responcible, we would promote emotional enhancement before we allow intellectual enhancement to happen. In the words of spiderman's uncle, "with great power comes great responciblilty"

I also think we need to develope risk assessment tools far more advanced than the ones we have now, so that we can accurately predict ALL the consequences that superintelligence brings.

stuart said...

well, us dumb humans will certainly not be able to do that predicting, perhaps if we were a little smater?

idea futures could be a good way of making good predictions, http://hanson.gmu.edu/ideafutures.html

cognitive enhancement isn't the same thing as superintelligence and probably has very little risk.

browse through the existential risk paper. The biggest threats to humanity are from technology not related to superintelligence; there is risk that retarding the development of superintelligance would prevent us from dealing with other risks.