Since the dawn of mankind, we humans have become used to being the primary species on this planet. We are top of the food chain and have altered our environment to suit our needs. Our pre-eminence is not due to our size or strength but purely because of our greater intelligence. It now seems inevitable that on our current path of technological progress, we may soon enable the creation of a greater intelligence than our own. The arrival of artificial intelligence which is more capable, knowledgeable, and superior in intellect will be a game changer for us. It will increase the scope of possibilities for humanity and enable us to achieve feats that are so far unimaginable. The point of singularity will be reached when we can no longer comprehend, exploit or implement the new science and technology because of the limitations of our own intelligence. At this point, we may feel threatened by the superior intellect of the artificial intelligence which we have created and many will wish to limit it. Others will prefer that we embrace and integrate this technology into ourselves, so that our own intellect and intelligence can handle and take full advantage of the moving goal posts. Thus before we consider building intelligent androids, many humans are far more likely to have adapted into cyborgs. They will have integrated various technological improvisations and prosthetics into the body. But by far the most necessary and likely adaption to the human body will be in the field of increased intelligence and cognitive abilities. The precursor to success in this field is the mapping of the human brain. The race to fully understand the brains processes, its neurons, its chemical and electrical interactions is being led by the billion dollar research teams of Google X labs in their quest to reverse engineer the brain. As they progress closer to their goal of understanding cognitive intelligence their resultant research findings are helping the cause of those seeking to increase the human brain’s cognitive powers through genetics, neural implants, and nootropics.
Genetic engineering usually refers to customizing the DNA of the life-form when it is only a single fertilized cell. Gene therapy is where the DNA is altered at a later stage of embryo development by modified viruses designed to alter specific genes. This is more often used to overcome certain congenital deficiencies. Genetic breeding applies more to wholesale sifting out of undesirable genes in cases of crop and livestock manipulation. Lastly Neurohacking is an experimental concept of modifying genetic traits through code resequencing of the DNA.
All genetic manipulations require identifying the thousands of genetic variants called alleles that are responsible for each different brain function. Specific alleles can then be analysed that act on certain functions and they can be genetically altered or re-engineered to boost that performance. All these genetic manipulations acting in tandem have the overall effect of substantially boosting intelligence.
Professor Stephen Hsu of the Michigan State University is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the genetic architecture of intelligence. He believes that we are only a decade away from successfully mapping all the relevant alleles and being able to engineer changes to them. He estimates that there are about 10,000 of these gene variants associated with intelligence. If these can all be ‘tweaked’ to a ‘smart variance’, then he predicts that he can raise IQ above a thousand points. When you bear in mind that Einstein had an IQ of 160, we are talking now about creating a class of super intelligent humans with 1000+ IQs.
“We can imagine savant-like capabilities that, in a maximal type, might be present all at once: nearly perfect recall of images and language; super-fast thinking and calculation; powerful geometric visualization, even in higher dimensions; the ability to execute multiple analyses or trains of thought in parallel at the same time; the list goes on.” ~ Professor Hsu, MSU.
Brain–computer interfacing (BCI) is an alternative and complimentary approach to increasing human intelligence through genetic manipulation. This will involve the direct interfacing of electromagnetic components into the brain and body. Human intelligence would be enhanced here by the integration of computer processing and memory into the brain. This would probably also interconnect with other technology some implanted in the body, and some external. Thus machines could be controlled directly by thought, or bionic implants in the body could interface with complex computer calculations made by the brains complimentary internal microchip processors.
Neural interfacing refers to making direct connections between brains (neurons) and computers (transistors). This is a complicated science because neurons and transistors have little in common. Although they both communicate by using electrical impulses, the neurons do this by a chemical reaction which creates the electrical impulse. The sensitivity of neurons can be altered by fluctuating concentrations of these chemicals which flow between them. Transistors require an external electrical current which cannot be fluctuated or tuned, allowing no sensitivity. Neurons can connect to just one or a thousands other neurons instantly. They can decide whether to just relay an electrical impulse from a neighbouring neuron to the next, or whether to broadcast it simultaneously to thousands. A transistor works on the principle of a single circuit; an electrical impulse is relayed from one to one along a single line route.
Despite these differences, there have been many breakthroughs in this science of neural interfacing. D.A.R.P.A. funded research at the university of Wisconsin has developed a brain chip which is made of graphene. This carbon based substitute is not only much more powerful in computational power, but its carbon structure is less intrusive to the body. Research scientists believe that tey are on the right path to bridge the divide between neurons and transistors. This brings the concept of neural implants much closer to reality.
Wet Hard Drives
Wet Computing refers to the process of storing tiny nanoparticles in liquid. The changes in state of these particles can be used in a binary 1 code similar to the machine code used across all hard drive technology presently. Nanoparticles would be created out of graphene and made into a liquid of non allergenic consistency. This would be injected into areas of the brain which already use stores of fluids to protect and insulate the brain. Small volumes of this liquid could contain terabytes of data. These wet hard drives could act as internal encyclopedias of information, photos and videos. They could also act as biomedical sensors for people inflicted with chronic conditions such as diabetes. However, All this would require connection to a neural processor chip interface which has been integrated with the brains neural network.
Nootropics are pharmaceutical drugs which act as cognitive enhancers. Smart Drugs such as Racetams and other nootropic drugs have been available for some decades now. As pharmaceutical technology improves, new nootropic drugs are improving in their performance as cognitive enhancers. They have proven to increase focus, memory, and speech comprehension and ability.
Super-Babies and engineering embryos
In China, the Beijing Genomics Institute is currently sequencing the genomes of 2000 of the world’s smartest people. Their intention is to use this research to aid the genetic engineering of super smart babies through single fertilized cell DNA manipulation. Using genetic screening of embryos maintained outside of the womb, will allow parents to choose and select the ones which have the alleles relating to super intelligence turned on. Once the embryo is implanted into the womb, the parents can be assured that their child is free of any congenital defects, poor hereditary traits, and will develop super intelligence. ‘Designer babies’ may actually have a selection of preferred genetic traits from each parent.
These processes require In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) for conception, and a large supply of embryos to choose the desired genomes from. However, it may soon be possible to synthesize the genomes to specification, reducing the need for large stocks of embryos.
The scientific answers may be easier to find than the moral ones. This is an ethical dichotomy which may invoke much religious and moral debate. Many will accuse medical scientists of trying to play God in choosing which embryo lives and which dies. Babies born with super 1000+IQs may grow up to become very self sufficient analytical persons. Their intellect may refute any religious beliefs that are based on faith alone. Their intelligence isolating them from others in life may affect them in unknown ways in a similar fashion to some autistic savants who are dispassionate and unemotional.
“Almost certainly, some countries will allow genetic engineering, thereby opening the door for global elites who can afford to travel for access to reproductive technology. As with most technologies, the rich and powerful will be the first beneficiaries. Eventually, though, I believe many countries will not only legalize human genetic engineering, but even make it a (voluntary) part of their national healthcare systems. The alternative would be inequality of a kind never before experienced in human history.” Prof. HSU, VP of research at MSU
Different nations and governments may hold different consensus over the practice of allowing the birth of ‘designer babies’ with super intelligence. It is probable that the cost of the IVF screening processes will be exorbitant and only affordable to the super wealthy. Therefore there is a distinct possibility of two classes of humans developing. The fewer super intelligent children of the rich and secular may live with the resentment of the naturally born children of the religious and poorer citizens. There would be a danger that humanity could reverts to a feudal system in which the most intelligent manage the affairs of the lesser. It is more likely that genetic engineering of embryos would eventually be wholly banned, or wholly accepted. If society chooses to embrace the practice, then this would most likely mark the death knell of natural conception. Embryos would now be fertilised outside of the womb, and only implanted later to develop in the womb. Society would soon recognise the separation of purpose between sex and conception. The only remaining purpose of Sex would be for sensual and erotic pleasure.
“So who or what exactly is a guild?”
Anton considered River’s question, “The Marekh Guild is a professional Order. If you qualify to join an Order, you usually select one by the age of thirteen.”
“If you qualify … How?” interrupted River.
Anton continued, “You qualify based on your genetic potential and background. You are more likely to come from a wealthy or professional family.”
“Are you saying that your family needs to be rich?”
“No, I am not saying that. I am saying that you need to pass intelligence and aptitude tests as well as satisfy the guild’s criteria for a genetic profile. Most professional parents are wealthier, and can afford to pay for the DNA enhancements to intelligence and intellect at conception. Therefore their children are more likely to satisfy the Guild and other Order’s requirements.”
excerpt from Beyond the Pale (the outlander)
by Senan Gil Senan
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