Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Achievable Transhumanism

Here is more goodness from the Edge Foundation, Stephen M. Kosslyn, a psychologist at the University of Harvard, is optimistic that we will be able to improve human intelligence. He has three basic points to support this optimism: the first is that neurobiologists have managed to identify several discrete systems within the brain, and have also managed to identify how they work together to perform tasks:

Each system can be made more efficient by "targeted training." Such training involves having people perform tasks that are designed to exercise very specific abilities, which grow out of distinct neural networks. Just as a body builder can do curls to build up biceps and dips on parallel bars to build up triceps, we can design computer-game-like tasks that exercise specific parts of the brain—mental muscles, if you will. By exercising the right sets of systems, specific types of reasoning not only can be improved but—the holy grail of training studies—such improvement can generalize to new tasks that draw on those systems.

This is exactly the sort of cheap, achievable goals that transhumanists need to be talking about. There isn’t any need for smart drugs or neural implants to improve the human mind, all we need to do is understand the mind more effectively and find innovative ways of improving it manually.

The second point is an increased understanding of group interaction, and resulting methods of creating more effective teams.

Just as a mechanical calculator can extend our mental capacities, other people help us extend our intelligence—both in a cognitive sense (as required to solve problems) and in an emotional sense (as required to detect and respond appropriately to emotions, ours and those of others). In this sense, other people can serve as "social prosthetic systems," as extensions of our own brains; a wooden leg can fill in for a missing limb, and others' brains can fill in for our cognitive and emotional limitations.

Teams amplify and strengthen the effects of human achievements. By cultivating a deeper understanding of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses we can create teams that achieve far more than the sum of their parts.

The third point is usually the favourite of transhuman commentators: widgetry.

Some people carry computers with them everywhere they go, and treat Google as an extension of their own knowledge bases. Or, in my case, my PDA extends my organizational ability enormously. We soon will have a wide variety of mechanical helpmates.

Whether being constantly in communication is a good thing or not is debatable, but constant access to the web is useful: a lot of information and knowledge can be acquired very quickly, and much more accurately than from normal human memories

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