What is Intelligence Augmentation?

Everyone involved in science fiction, either as a producer or consumer thereof, knows about A.I. It's strange, but the prominence of A.I., robots, and the like, has eclipsed an entire area which comprises the counterpoint to A.I.— I.A. or Intelligence Augmentation (also called Cognitive Augmentation).

Most of us are already familiar with I.A. by other names. For example, fans of Star Trek might remember a certain villain from the 60's that came back for revenge in the 2nd feature film—KHAAAAAAAAN! (Sorry, couldn't resist). Khan Noonian Singh was said to be genetically modified, including his intelligence, that made him smarter and more cunning than unmodified people.

What about real world examples? How close are we to modified intelligence?

Researchers at Princeton University in 1999 were able to modify a gene, NR2B, in mice to make them more intelligent. Specifically, the mice demonstrated "young brain" characteristics (quick learning, faster associations than older brains make) along with object recognition, emotional memory, learning response, and spacial memory. The results of the research, which as of the time of the article showed the mice had no side-effects, demonstrated that genetic modification of intelligence is possible (and may also work in humans), though I couldn't find much on any research in this specific area after this study.

Perhaps it is because the engineered enhancement of human intelligence (among other things) is considered "morally questionable" at best. There are many arguments against altering our basic code to make ourselves "better." Many believe it would become a tool of the rich to suppress the rest of us, or say that the unexpected consequences wouldn't be worth the risk.

EveR2- A Singing Android
Image Copyright
The Korea Institute of Industrial Technology
Others, however, worry that without engaging in some kind of I.A. humans will fall behind our mechanical offspring, A.I. As this iO9 article points out, whereas I.A. is stagnant right now, breakthroughs in A.I. are happening all the time. It is a near certainty that we will give intellectual birth to A.I. long before we enhance ourselves, if we ever do. What kind of world will we live in when our tools are smarter than us by such a great extent, that our evolved minds will be unable to even comprehend what they are thinking? Does not the certainty of A.I. require us to think about how we will keep up in the long term?

Some say that I.A. is advancing, just not on a genetic level. Jamais Cascio's article "Get Smarter" in The Atlantic points out that the Internet is an external sign of our continued I.A. The average person with internet access now has more information and cognitive stimulation available at their fingertips than any other human in history, and though such technology is on the outside for now, technology such as Google Glass show that it won't be long before we all can have this type of information and processing power on the inside. However, it remains to be seen if such advances will allow humanity to keep up with our machines.

Robonaut with Centaur Attachment
Image by NASA
Regardless of who wins the race the cybergenius is on its way to being a reality. One can only hope that whatever it is, it will act to solve humanity's problems instead of exacerbating them.


  1. Good post, Mike. I really like your last sentence.


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