Researchers at Cambridge University have come to the conclusion that our brains have reached their peak and it’s physically impossible for mankind to get any smarter.
This is based on how much energy the brain uses. Just 2% of our body weight it consumes 20% of its energy, as much as the heart muscle, and they don’t think we can give it any more.
Other scientists believe that the brain’s wiring can’t get any better either. They’ve found that clever people have the most efficient wiring and can move messages very quickly through the brain compared to less intelligent people but see little scope for further development.
Is that it then? Have we really peaked with Big Brother, X Factor, Jeremy Clarkson, soaps, and all the reality TV shows?
Perhaps the answer lies in man-machine combinations. Already computers can do things we can’t (and vice versa). 70% of stocks in the world are traded using algorithms but is that better than rogue traders risking corporate money and our pension schemes?
IBM’s Watson computer has already won the US quiz show Jeopardy this year and robots, or robotic arms, assemble and spray cars and work in inhospitable environments. Computer programmes have been designed to mimic conversations (even with each other) and have been used in experimental psychotherapy settings. The development of artificial intelligence or AI has already gone beyond the realms of science fiction.
The Singularity Institute has been set up with donations from Google and Nasa to monitor these developments and includes people like the founders of PayPal and Skype as well as a philosopher, a gerontologist and a futurist. They believe the time will come, possibly by 2045, when robots will become clever enough to redesign themselves and become more intelligent than man.
Sci-fi fans know this already of course with Cyborgs, Terminator and replicators. HAL seems so yesterday!
Already neuro-prosthetic devices have been implanted in the brains of rats to boost their memory paving the way for developments which could help people with dementia or brain injuries.
On the negative side suppose a computer became so powerful that it could take over other computers, control the web, and use that power to improve itself so dramatically so that it became far more efficient and cleverer than humans? It could take control of the world’s assets (remember I mentioned the algorithmic trading of stocks). But hang on, haven’t I seen that film?