Augmented Human Intelligence

Better and Better and Better Humans

They’re getting better — but so are we.

Moshe Sipper, Ph.D.
ILLUMINATION
Published in
5 min readOct 14, 2023

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AI-generated image (craiyon)

An ocean of words has been flowing of late about how AI will supplant us in 10… 9… 8… 7…

Well, you get the picture.

AI is getting better. There are no two ways about it. Being involved both in the research side and in the speculative side, I’ve written quite a bit about this on my Medium channel.

BUT — what about us getting better? I don’t mean that in the sense of self-improvement (which is important in itself!) but in the sense of proxy, physical, and cerebral improvement.

Let’s start with proxies, by which I mean tools that aid us in our daily lives. That one’s a no-brainer: it’s been going on for centuries, millennia, possibly longer — ever since our ancestors first picked up a sharp rock, tied it to a stick, and thus fashioned a spear.

Then the spear became a gun (well, not right away), and the pickaxe became a tractor (again, it took a few years); along the way, wild animals were bred and domesticated — all adding to our arsenal of increased proxy prowess.

But that’s just proxy brawn. Of course, we’ve also developed proxy brain aids, most notably writing systems. This gave rise to so much stuff we can do by adding to our inner mental capacity, from writing down intermediate results in a long arithmetic calculation to printing out tons of information in books — all clearing up space in our brains so they can do other stuff (arithmetic and books are also on that list of proxy brain aids, by the way.)

Other stuff? Yeah, it's like inventing powerful AI.

Darn, I fell into that AI thingy again. No, no, no: I want to stick to AHI (Augmented Human Intelligence).

OK, we’ve been augmenting our physical and basic mental capabilities through proxy technologies that keep getting better and better (oh, I didn’t mention the invention of the computer — there, I just mentioned it, yawn, moving on).

The proxy segues at some point into physical augmentation. The car can be perceived as providing us with faster “legs,” or it can be deemed as mere wordplay: nothing “leggy” about a car.

Whichever camp you prefer, there are now unarguable (in my opinion) efforts to really augment our legs (and other body parts). I have little doubt that many of the current prostheses will one day (probably sooner rather than later) replace not only missing or injured limbs but also fully functional ones. The prostheses will simply be… better.

Hello, Six Billion Dollar Man.

(Note #1: I’ve adjusted for inflation).

(Note #2: If you’re not current on TV shows from the 70s, look it up — I think we’ll soon get there…)

Now, we come to the pinnacle of augmentations: cerebral improvements. Again, we’ve been doing this for quite some time. Witness meds such as Ritalin and Viagra, which are ingested by perfectly healthy humans, not just those with the relevant medical conditions. Healthy people take Ritalin because they say it helps them focus better. As for healthy people taking Viagra… You won’t get a rise out of me.

The movie Limitless centers around such an idea: a pill that gives your mental capacities a huge bump. By the by, the IMDb’s summary includes the phrase “mysterious pill that enables the user to access 100% of his brain’s abilities”. The “we access only a tiny part of our brain” notion is a common trope, which I tend to disagree with for evolutionary reasons.

Evolution by Natural Selection — yeah, that process that bigots us — may avoid weeding out some surplus “stuff,” such as an appendix, if there’s no reduced fitness in maintaining said stuff. But sporting a huge brain, only 10% of which is used — well, that’s a bit hard to explain. It’s more likely we simply don’t know yet what all that brain matter does.

Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, cerebral improvements. Think Ritalin on steroids. Will we soon have chemicals, biologicals, nanomachines, berries discovered in (what remains of) the Amazon forest, or whatnot, improving our mental capacity?

The average IQ is defined as 100 (technically, for modern IQ tests, the raw score is transformed to a normal distribution with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15). What if we up this value one day to 110? 120? 200?

As an avid sci-fi reader and viewer, it always tickles me to note how aliens are, by and large, about as smart as we are (witness Star Wars and Star Trek, for example). But that’s BS if you pardon my French.

What if we encounter aliens that evolved on a slightly rougher planet, whose survival was achieved by attaining an average IQ (on our scale) of 200? To them, Einstein would be the village idiot (Sorry, Albert, no offense!).

To come back to AI, it’s quite possible alien intelligence is ultimately artificial:

Let me now roll full circle to my initial premise (and title): We humans are getting better and better.

Have been for ages.

Have been doing it faster of late.

When you can replace your legs with better artificial ones — some will hesitate, but I bet many will not.

And when you can replace your brain — or parts thereof —with better bits and pieces, I’d simply say: all bets are off.

Thus, it’s not AI getting better and better while we stand still. It’s a fight, a race, or maybe coevolution — two species evolving side by side. And it’s not necessarily a zero-sum game, where one side’s gain is another side’s loss: we could both stand to win, or both stand to lose.

So when will you be able to order a new brain on Amazon? Well, I don’t have an answer to that. For now, I think I’ll just stick “New Brain” in my Wish List (and I insist on “new”, not “refurbished”!).

One final thought: Does better mean we’ll be… nicer?

Ah. You’ve got me there.

AI-generated image (craiyon)

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Moshe Sipper, Ph.D.
ILLUMINATION

Swashbuckling Buccaneer of Oceanus Verborum 🌊 4x Boosted Writer 🚀