The Evolving Brain

The human brain is always evolving, and that evolution is accelerating. Consider “superplasticity,” described as “the ability of each mind to plug into the minds and experiences of countless others through culture or technology.”

The next stage of brainpower enhancement could be technological – through genetic engineering or brain prostheses. Because the gene variants pivotal to intellectual brilliance have yet to be discovered, boosting brainpower by altering genes may still be some way off, or even impossible. Prostheses are much closer, especially as the technology for wiring brains into computers is already being tested (see “Dawn of the cyborgs”). Indeed, futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil believes the time when humans merge with machines will arrive as early as 2045 (New Scientist, 9 May, p 26).

In the future, will there be a sort of “class division” between those whose brains are enhanced, and those who don’t want or can’t afford enhancement?

The guiding principle, perhaps, could be to make sure the technology is cheap enough to be open to all, much as books, computers and cellphones are today, at least in richer countries. “If this stuff can be produced cheaply and resonates with what people want to do anyway, it could take off,” says Chris Gosden, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford.

John Dupré at the University of Exeter, UK says “There will be a lot of evolution, but it won’t be classic neo-Darwinist changes in the genome. It will be changes in the environment, in technology and in the availability of good education. I don’t think souping up people’s genomes is the way to go.” [Link]