We’re asking each of the participants in The World Transformed to give us their thoughts on one major coming transformation. Here Bruce Katz’ thoughts on neural enhancement:
If you were to pick just one current or coming transformation (does not have to be the one we’re talking about Wednesday) that you would advise people to focus on, which one would that be?
The mind is the center of all that we know, and indeed, of all that we are. Accordingly, the most important set of transformations in both the near and long-term will be those that modulate, manipulate, or otherwise enhance neural activity. The area that I am most excited about is enhancement of non-pathological brain activity; i.e., not treating depression or schizoid disorders (as important as these are), but taking a so-called normal brain and making it better. There are important reasons why evolution is limited in its ability to do this, but evolution itself has given us just enough savvy to become self-modifying agents, and therefore accelerate the process.
What should we be doing about it?
The single most important thing we can do to accommodate this trend is to get out of the way of innovators in this field. We cannot predict or control what will happen if IQ is raised 10 points on average, or if concentration is improved by a similar percentage. The best way of ensuring this would be a “Freedom of thought” amendment to the Constitution, preventing unnecessary meddling at the outset. I am pessimistic, however, that the current mean human neural state is sufficiently advanced to grasp the need for this – perhaps some initial enhancement will help here.
What’s in it for us if we get it right?
In short, world peace, the end of poverty, spirituality unbound to ritual, and the end of unctuous restaurant service (not necessarily in that order).
What are the risks if we don’t?
The risk is that we continue as we are, in our imperfect (and imperfectable state). It is important to realize that genetically, and therefore neurologically, we are the same species that caused the Holocaust, Rwanda, slavery, etc. Future disasters of this magnitude await if we do not change the character of H. Sapiens at its core, that is, its way of thinking.