Studies in two dozen countries and found that scores were rising by 0.3 point a year—three full points per decade. Nearly 30 years of follow-up studies have confirmed the statistical reality of the global uptick, now known as the Flynn effect. And scores are still climbing.
Most of the increases are in parts of the IQ tests focused on finding similarities or analogies. There are increases in math and reading but at a far slower pace.
The likely explanation is that people and society did not need or value the abilities to use abstractions as much as before.
Another development is that reaction times are improving. This is likely due to the playing of video games. Video game players tend to have reaction times that are 25% faster.
IEEE Spectrum discusses generation smartphone, where people will have increasing help from smartphone like devices from the time they are born. The smartphone’s role as constant companion, helper, coach, and guardian has only just begun.
Nextbigfuture has covered the changes we can expect in smartphones. IBM is developing more industry knowledge into Watson (the AI that won the quiz game Jeopardy) so that Watson will be as capable and sometimes more capable than doctors for some diagnosis. Watson will be made accessible by smartphone.
Robotic cars will also be deployed over the next decade or two. The first robotic cars are being made legal in various states now, but it will take time to add the systems into all new cars and into all old cars.
Note – some think that the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence systems will rapidly blow past human capabilities and replace people entirely. I think the transition will be slower to achieve across the board in all jobs and functions. It will be fast in some jobs and functions, but there will be a transition of many decades where people can adapt and learn to perform better and work with the new systems. There will also be sociological and policy forces which will lengthen the time when people will work closely with more capable robotics and AI and devices.
Being able to download instant skills and knowledge will be similar to the Matrix. However, the skills do not have be downloaded directly into the brain. They can be loaded to a device that provides visual and haptic guidance via augmented reality (you see what to do on a display that overlays your view of the physical world) and/or a soft exoskeleton guides your movements (while you are figuring out what to do initially).
The main deployment hurdles will be getting all high quality training and instant skills into the best formats. Currently there is a lot of video training and education on Youtube and internet. These things are good for online education which rivals university education.
More and more will be automated and artificial intelligence improvements will enable more tasks to be assigned to robotics and virtual agents. Processes will change to fully automate where appropriate.
This will be a multiplier effect to human productivity and capability. The first full doubling will be hard. We will have to get deployment and adoption and we have to make the systems good enough to actually drastically improve what can be done. The rollout will be uneven. Just as adoption and use of online education is spotty. Some courses and topics are more suited to online education. Online education needs a mix of collaborative learning and tools and teacher assistance to be most effective.
Online learning is considered disruptive and the adoption and utility varies and how each person is best at learning varies. The instant skills and on demand delivery of exactly the right instruction and direction that can be adapted to the person is a tougher challenge. Although there will be ways to have highly successful narrow applications and categories where instant skills will be ideal solutions. There is already an app for solving a rubik’s cube. The solution space of apps will be extended and enhanced into on demand instant skill and guidance delivery.
The possible productivity gain for the instant skill will be the difference between someone who is highly experienced in a task versus someone who is new to the task or someone who is new but with a live coach and instructor and mentor versus someone new without that help.
The productivity gains can be very large. It will also make for a more adaptable workforce. We can compare the earnings differential between people with grade 9 education versus university education.
Explaining the Flynn Effect
A number of explanations have been suggested for the Flynn effect, most of which Flynn swats down with little trouble. It is just too large, too widespread, and too steady, to be due to improved nutrition, greater familiarity with IQ tests, or (a personal favorite) hybrid vigor from mixing previously-isolated populations, all of which have been seriously proposed. Nobody seems to have bit the bullet and suggested that modern societies have natural or sexual selection for higher IQ; but the numbers wouldn’t add up in any case.
The Flynn effect seems to imply at least one of two things: either our ancestors of a century ago were astonishingly stupid, or IQ tests measure intelligence badly. Flynn contends that our ancestors were no dumber than we are, but that most of them used their minds in different ways than we do, to which IQ tests are more or less insensitive; we have become increasingly skilled at the uses of intelligence IQ tests do catch. Though he doesn’t put it this way, he thinks that IQ tests are massively culturally biased, and that the culture they favor has been imposed on the populations of the developed countries (and, increasingly, the rest of the world) through a far-reaching, sustained and successful campaign of cultural imperialism and social engineering.
This can be seen in Flynn’s discussion of a hypothetical, but typical, test question: “How are rabbits and dogs alike?” Answers like “both are raised on farms”, “both come in breeds with different colors”, “both are eaten by people in some parts of the world and kept as pets in others”, “both have claws”, “both can destroy gardens”, and Flynn’s example answer, “you can use dogs to hunt rabbits” are true, but not what IQ testers look for. (Even the answer “they’re not alike, in any way that matters” could be sensibly defended.) The test-makers want you to say “both are mammals”. What the testers look for, in other words, is not knowledge of the concrete world or of functional relationships, but mastery of one set of abstract concepts, which the test-makers themselves have internalized as highly-trained scientific professionals and literate intellectuals.
All thought involves some degree of abstraction, but IQ testers, like intellectuals in general, tend to value abstraction as such.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.