Jamais Cascio, affiliate at the Institute for the Future and a senior fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, writes of how we’ll need to get smarter as a species if we are to survive the next several decades. But this time, he adds, “we don’t have to rely solely on natural evolutionary processes to boost our intelligence.”
He turns our attention to breakthroughs in genetic engineering and artificial intelligence, as means for “intelligence augmentation,” or what he calls “You+.” This form of “technological evolution” has more to do with how we manage and adapt to the immense amount of knowledge rather than responding to the physical world.
“We can call it the Nöocene epoch, from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the Nöosphere, a collective consciousness created by the deepening interaction of human minds. As that epoch draws closer, the world is becoming a very different place.”
He cites Steven Johnson’s book, Everything Bad Is Good for You, which details how increasing complexity and the range of media we engage have made us smarter by providing a form of “cognitive calisthenics”. It is what scientists describe as our “fluid intelligence”—the ability to find meaning in confusion and to solve new problems, independent of acquired knowledge. The challenge, however, is a kind of “technology-induced ADD,” which Cascio says, is only really a short-term problem because our information handling tools will keep getting better. He forsees the day when the pattern-matching skills of experts will become accessible to ordinary people whose intelligence has been augmented by cheap digital tools.
These tools could involve what he refers to as “attention filters—or focus assistants” which would afford us the ability to maintain “continuous augmented awareness.” He touts the benefits of a vigilance promoting drug called modafinil as an example. A University of Cambridge study revealed that modafinil can enhance cognition across a variety of mental tasks, including pattern recognition and spatial planning, and sharpens focus and alertness. Cascio believes cognition-enhancing drugs and the technological augmentation of tools will increase our appreciation of the consequences of our actions, as well as enable our opinions to be based on more intricate reasoning.
He speculates that further on into the future there will be minds that run on a machine platform, or within a high-speed neural network as sophisticated as that of a human brain. He raises the topic of “the Singularity,” a term applied by the computer scientist and science-fiction author Vernor Vinge, whom he quotes: “Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence,” Vinge wrote in 1993. “Shortly after, the human era will be ended.” The Singularity concept is a secular echo of Teilhard de Chardin’s “Omega Point,” the culmination of the Nöosphere at the end of history.