June 04, 2012

What Enhancements will Matter in a Transhumanist Future ?

Cognitive enhancement is a core aspect of Transhumanism. What has some limited benefit now is Nootropics. Nootropics are also referred to as smart drugs, memory enhancers, neuro enhancers, cognitive enhancers, and intelligence enhancers, are drugs, supplements, nutraceuticals, and functional foods that improve mental functions such as cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, and concentration.

There are Skills and Methods for Better Memory and Productivity

To attain the rank of grand master of memory, you must be able to perform three seemingly superhuman feats. You have to memorize 1,000 digits in under an hour, the precise order of 10 shuffled decks of playing cards in the same amount of time, and one shuffled deck in less than two minutes. There are 36 grand masters of memory in the world.

Though every competitor has his own unique method of memorization for each event, all mnemonic techniques are essentially based on the concept of elaborative encoding, which holds that the more meaningful something is, the easier it is to remember. The brain isn't built to remember abstract symbols like numbers and playing cards, but if one can translate those symbols into vivid visual images, even the dullest series of binary digits can be made as memorable as your own address. The key is to develop a system that allows quick encoding and easy recall.

Some memorizers arbitrarily associate each playing card with a familiar person or object, so that the king of clubs is represented by, say, Tony Danza. The grand masters associate each card with a person, an action, or an object so that every group of three cards can be converted into a sentence. The first card of the triplet is encoded as a person, the second as a verb, and the third as an object. For example, when Cooke sees a three of clubs, a nine of hearts, and a nine of spades, he immediately conjures up an image of Brazilian lingerie model Adriana Lima in a Biggles biplane shooting at his old public-school headmaster in a suit of armor. The more vivid the image, the more likely it is not to be forgotten.

There are other tips for improving your memory in general. These tips including getting enough sleep, working in ten minutes of meditation a day and maintaining cardiovascular fitness.

For day to day life, people who are organized and productive would have systems for handling and processing tasks so that they are not depending upon good memory.

The book "Getting Things Done" describes a task management system for staying on top of tasks.

David Allen developed a task-management methodology made popular in his best-selling book, Getting Things Done. Rather than organizing tasks in a rigid, hierarchical fashion, he developed a flexible system for organizing tasks according to the context in which they are done (e.g., while online, while at the office, while at home, errands, phone calls, etc.)

* Apply the "do it, delegate it, defer it, drop it" rule to get your in-box to empty
* Reassess goals and stay focused in changing situations
* Plan projects as well as get them unstuck

The Wall Street Journal discussed soon to be popular implants for cognitive enhancement.

Direct Current Stimulation has been able to double visual memory performance.

There are methods for inducing the optimal brain states for optimal learning or other desired modes.

There would be minimal immediate impact on society from successful nootropics, implants and other means of marginal enhancement of mental functions such as cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, and concentration.

The effect of enhanced intelligence and learning would be felt over time with upgraded and wider adoption of useful skills, knowledge and capabilities.

Having enhancements that result in better test scores and some improved learning are trivial in the overall societal situation.

There has been correlations found between average IQ in a country and per capita GDP. However, these effects take time to be worked out. The state of a countries infrastructure and capital stock also determines how productive people can be. Also, a country with high average IQ can still have circumstances and the physical state of a nation can result in a lot of poverty. This would be the case with China from 1800's through to the 1970s. The people were smart on average but the leaders had made bad very bad choices for hundreds of years. The policies and systems that are the framework for how the government and business of a country will still have a large impact and how much improvement is possible.

Researchers collected information on 90 countries, including far-off lands from the U.S. to New Zealand and Colombia to Kazakhstan. They also collected data on the country’s excellence in science and technology—the number of patents granted per person and how many Nobel Prizes the country’s people had won in science, for example.

They found that intelligence made a difference in gross domestic product. For each one-point increase in a country’s average IQ, the per capita GDP was $229 higher. It made an even bigger difference if the smartest 5 percent of the population got smarter; for every additional IQ point in that group, a country’s per capita GDP was $468 higher.

A company, nation or an organization can see massive improvements in productivity by obtaining leaders with superior decision making capabilities and adopting the better business practices and systems (some of which are technologically based).

The correlation between a country's average IQ and per capita GDP also suggests that having widespread cognitive enhancement will provide significant benefits over time if the systems permit the gains to be had.

Enhancements that make things better regardless of most Circumstances

There are enhancements which can make things better right away for those who have them and the circumstances and constraints are less important.
* Enhancement of health and longevity 
  - increased lifespan
  - reduced frailty
  - increased healthspan
  - improved immune system
  - regeneration
  - tissue engineering  

Healthcare spending makes up about 5-20% of spending in countries. So improved average health would reduce those costs. Also, having healthier people would also increase productivity.

Better National Choices and Possibilities Are Already Available

There are already many better systems and choices for the leaders of countries to adopt and implement.

- There is more that can be done with preventing health problems. Research from the Milken Institute suggests that a modest reduction in avoidable risk factors could lead to a gain of more than $1 trillion annually in labor supply and efficiency by 2023.

- Improving Education and adopting systems proven to be successful would have a large impact. A persistent gap in academic achievement between children in the United States and their counterparts in other countries deprived the US economy of as much as $2.3 trillion in economic output in 2008, McKinsey research found.

A recent analysis of the Finnish system summarized its core principles as follows:

Resources for those who need them most.
High standards and supports for special needs.
Qualified teachers.
Evaluation of education.
Balancing decentralization and centralization

There are countries that have successfully deployed low cost gigabit internet. This would boost GDP if other countries could do the same. It is a matter of having policies for true broadband competition and enabling the best high speed internet in cities.

Vastly improved management of high technology (nuclear fusion energy, deep burn fission, space access and other technology) is possible.

- Technology funding should have a large portion that is committed to high risk and high return projects

- Space development needs to be focused on developing infrastructure in space that lowers the cost for the missions and activities that follow (fuel depots, use of insitu resources etc...)

Policies, rules and laws need to be optimized for more productivity and being able to leverage emerging technologies

I have described the technologies of a mundane singularity which are existing or soon to exist capabilities which can have a large positive impact

1. Pro-growth Policies
2. Energy Efficiency - superconductors, thermoelectrics, improved grid
3. Energy Revolution - Mass produced fission, fusion, and maybe cold fusion
4. Additive manufacturing
5. Not so mundane - neuromorphic chips, quantum computers, photonics
6. Automated transportation (leading to robotic cars and planes)
7. Urbanization MegaCities
8. Urbanization Broad Group skyscrapers, Tata flat packed buildings
9. Robotics
10. Hyperbroadband
11. Supermaterials
12. Improve medicine and public health
13. Space
14. Synthetic biology and recombineering
15. Sensors everywhere
16. Education transformed and accelerated innovation
17. Supersmartphones, exoskeletons and wearable systems
18. Memristors and other significant computing and electronic improvements.

An outline of technologies expected for each of the next few decades

Maxing out the near term to set the stage for 15-20 years out.

There is a lot that can be done to improve buildings, cities, automation, transportation, and energy.

There needs to be a focus on being to do more, faster.

Currently there is too much allowance for wasted effort and time. It is possible to regulate more efficiently. There can be computerization of regulation. For example, instead of having buildings plans submitted and resubmitted for review over months and years, the regulations and desired checks could be encoded for automatic real time review. Automated reviews would be more thorough, accurate and faster for everyone.

Systems can be set up to enable things to be done right, done safely and done quickly.

Information systems could be provided to people to let them easily research and compare education systems that have been used around the world. This would enable more informed choices about options for improving education policy. Similar information can be provided when crafting better healthcare.

A lot more is known about what works and works better but the public debates and policy creation usually do not bring in and use this information.

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