Home / Blog / Artificial Super Intelligence – II

Artificial Super Intelligence – II

Ribbon diagram of human monoamine oxidase B. MAO-I have an effect on brain activity, used as antidepressant. Image credit: Protein Data Bank

OK, following on yesterday post, at a certain point computers will have some kind of super intelligence. What about us?

When focussing on the increase of computer intelligence, and the possibility they will take the upper hand, we often forget about the possibility of increasing our intelligence. Is that feasible? Humans have increased their intelligence in the 10 million years that saw their evolution, they have progressively increased the volume of their brains (tripled it!) and increased the number of folds of the brain cortex thus increasing the “processing” surface… In the last ten thousand years they have increased their intelligence through epigenetic, not by increasing the hardware (the brain size and shape) but by soft means -like reading and writing that boosted the learning.

There might be a number of ways to increase human intelligence:

  1. by using a better diet. Human intelligence has increased in the last 100 years thanks to better diet. It might seem amazing but a lot of the progress we have seen in the last hundred years is not rooted in medicine nor science but in clean water and better food. Clearly these depend on science that made clean water reality all over the world (almost all over) and increased agricultural yield keeping famine at bay. Better nourishment and longer life span has -statistically speaking- increased the number of smart people and increased the access to them, thus creating a shared intelligence benefitting us all!
  2. by using nootropic drugs it might be possible to increase brain effectiveness. There are already a few drugs that increase (momentarily) focus and sharpness (Ritalin, Provigil). There may be drugs in the future that can speed up  memory formation and resilience, which means have an effect on the “wiring” of the brain. There is no silver bullet so far, nootropic drugs may have undesirable side effect. Drugs that relieve from fatigue are actually just relieving from the feeling of fatigue but at physiological level it is still there and this can have bad effects.
    Similar to nootropic drugs are specific substances, like MAO-I, that are found in the brain and whose boosting can increase its performance. Researchers are finding more and more of them and understanding their role and effects. The modulation of these substances might increase the effectiveness of brain processing. Using drugs to boost intelligence is often seen as “cheating”, a sort of dope, although some of these “drugs” have become so “common” that they are no longer attracting criticism (think about caffeine…).
  3. by using epigenetic factors, like tools for better education, it is possible to increase intelligence, as it happened in the last 10,000 years. Although the jury is still out, there is a general feeling that augmented reality, virtual reality, continuous education, haptic interfaces and digital twins are providing new ways to boost intelligence as never before. Of course, the problem in this approach is the availability of those “education boosters” to people, and the risk is creating a divide between those who can access them and those who cannot.
  4. by implanting chips to extend the sensory capability and to regulate brain activity. This involves some invasive procedure that may not appeal to many. We are not, yet, to the point of having a recipe for augmentation through implants, but the consensus is that the work on bioelectronics aiming at fighting mental deficiencies (from epilepsy to hyperactive disorders, from Parkinson to depression) will eventually lead to solutions that can also be used for augmentation.
  5. by using selective breeding on humans. Selective breeding has increased yields in farming and animal husbandry. It might be possible, using cesarean delivery to steer evolution towards bigger heads, hence bigger brains. It is clearly an area fraught with ethical issues and many people would strongly object to this.
  6. by genomic engineering, once the mechanisms binding the genotype to the phenotype will be understood (we are not there yet). As for selective breeding, genomic engineering  -that eventually may result in the creation of a new species- is fraught with ethical issues.

It is a given that future generations will be smarter than we are today. Will this intelligence boosting sufficient to challenge to one of machines?  Personally, I think that is unlikely because biological evolution works on a completely different timescale. Machine evolution today, and tomorrow, is so much faster.

So, are we going to be overwhelmed by machines, as some pessimists are saying?

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.