Thoughts On Enhanced Intelligence

I saw this article on IO9 asking if artificially enhanced human intelligence might not be as beneficial as we might imagine. The fact that I saw this on IO9 kept me from dismissing it as typical Luddite fear-mongering; their tagline, after all, is “we come from the future.” If anybody on the Internet is pro-future, it’s these guys.

Well, these guys and countless other trans-humanist blogs, tech sites, and other groups. Technologically interested people on the Internet? You don’t say! Anyway.

My position going into the article was firmly in the “pro-enhancement” camp. Intelligence is the defining characteristic of our species. Technological progress has made life better for most people. It stands to reason that more intelligence will lead to more technology which will lead to better lives.

However, I’m no longer quite as certain about this position as I was before. The article points out a few things that I, like many others, often take for granted:

We value smartness, no doubt about it. No one likes to be called stupid, especially in the sci-tech-saturated world we live in. High intelligence, goes the argument, is what’s needed for success in this society, a trait that trumps physical strength, the conviction to succeed, and even a solid education.

But as Walker told me, this is an intelligence bias, one that’s twofold. There’s the emphasis towards intelligence itself, and then there’s the bias towards certain kinds of intelligence — namely “IQ-type” intelligence, or what Changizi calls chess-and-brain-teaser-like intelligence.

It’s a good point. You don’t often hear discussion of intelligence-enhancement of things like social intelligence or emotional intelligence; it’s always the brain-puzzle stuff, the stereotypical “nerd” stuff.

I really like Changizi’s version of what he views as the optimal vision for an enhanced intelligence in humans:

“Well, there’s my own Human 3.0 view, in which I make the case that any enhancements that truly take off will be ones that closely harness our brains’ natural instincts — that’s the only way to coax the brain to do new things brilliantly — and in this sense I deem even writing, speech and music as “enhancements”.

This is a perspective I’ve never considered before and it’s something that, in retrospect, reveals that I’m fully guilty of falling into the “fetishization” of intelligence, valuing only outcomes like higher IQs and the ability to crunch numbers in one’s head.

This is strange, because in truth, I’m incredibly weak in math and similar disciplines; one of the reasons I focused so heavily on writing throughout my education. You’d think I would be the first to point out that intelligence is more than just IQ. Maybe I focused on those goals hoping there would one day be technology that would help me understand trig.

I’m glad that this is a discussion. I feel that my own perspective has been broadened and I very much agree with the vision of intelligence-enhancement will mirror our own natural biological processes and improve upon them.

Although it’s not mentioned in the article, I believe enhancement with the goal of preventing neurological decay (such as what happens to the brain through natural aging) would be a worthy goal.

Interesting stuff. I’m still very interested in trans-humanism and its goals and I’m glad to see there is nuanced discussion happening about them. That bodes well for the future, in my opinion.