Friday, February 22, 2013

Intelligence boosts for everyone!


One time a guy accused me of "wanting to always be the smartest guy in the room". I replied: "Apparently you haven't seen the rooms I hang out in." As a matter of fact, I've always enjoyed being the dumbest guy in the room, because I'd rather learn from smart people than have to explain stuff to people.

So I guess it's not surprising that I think we should offer intelligence-boosting technology to everyone. Given the option, I'd much rather live in a society where everyone was a super-genius, even if that would take away  my economic niche (Who would need a semi-smart finance professor in a world of super-geniuses?). But my desire to smart-ify everyone in America is not just for my own benefit; I think most people would benefit from 80 extra IQ points, on net. Sure, there are studies saying that smart people have emotional problems. But I suspect a lot of these are just due to growing up weird and different; if we smart-ified everybody, this wouldn't be a problem.

So how about the technology? Does it exist? Well, on the cyborg side of things, there are some experiments being done with artificial memory and augmented learning. And then on the genetic side of things, there is a big effort underway in China to find the genes that cause extremely high intelligence:
The roots of intelligence are a mystery. Studies show that at least half of the variation in intelligence quotient, or IQ, is inherited. But while scientists have identified some genes that can significantly lower IQ—in people afflicted with mental retardation, for example—truly important genes that affect normal IQ variation have yet to be pinned down. 
The Hong Kong researchers hope to crack the problem by comparing the genomes of super-high-IQ individuals with the genomes of people drawn from the general population. By studying the variation in the two groups, they hope to isolate some of the hereditary factors behind IQ... 
Scientist say that tens of thousands of regular people would have to be studied just to find the first useful IQ gene. 
That's where BGI's genomic deep dive comes in. The team will compare the genomes of 2,200 high-IQ individuals with the genomes of several thousand people drawn randomly from the general population. Because most of the supersmart participants being studied are the cognitive equivalent of people "who are 6-foot-9-inches tall," says Dr. Hsu, it should be much easier to identify many key IQ-related factors in their genomes. (Dr. Hsu is now vice president for research and graduate studies at Michigan State University.)
So we may soon know some genes for exceptional intelligence. This would probably allow us to create super-smart babies (through a "knock-in" technique), or maybe even to augment the intelligence of adults.

Now, people are going to be worried about this technology, for two main reasons. The first reason is that it has the obvious potential to create lots of social inequality. If the distribution of smart-ification technology is left to the private sector, rich people will start having much smarter kids than middle-class or poor people, and generational inequality will be the result. The solution to this is to socialize the technology. Make smart-ification technology available for everyone, via the government.

The second worry is that this smacks of academic racism and eugenics. And indeed, the American scientist who is the driving intellectual force behind the Chinese project is Steve Hsu, a Michigan State physicist who has written a fair amount of academic-racist and pro-eugenics stuff on the web defended the notion of "race" as a biological classification, raised questions about "group differences" in abilities between races, and argued vocally against affirmative action (and here is academic-racist blogger Razib Khan defending and praising Hsu). (Note: See update below.)

But I think this worry is clearly unfounded. Because smart-ification technology will be race-blind! The technology would work equally well on any person, black, white, Asian, etc. In fact, identifying specific genes for high intelligence would clearly indicate that race and intelligence are not fundamentally linked, thus essentially slaughtering the entire academic-racist culture.

So I say, best of luck to the folks at BGI. If they do find the smart genes, the U.S. government must make sure to hack their databases, steal the data, and - assuming it's safe - make smart-ification available free for the masses. Then maybe I can fulfill my fantasy of being the dumbest guy in any given room.

(Note: I don't think IQ is really the measure of intelligence, and in fact I doubt intelligence can be usefully described by a one-factor scalar model at all. But "IQ enhancement" is a shorthand for enhancement of all sorts of cognitive tasks - working memory, spatial visualization, learning speed, etc. etc.)


Update: Steve Hsu emails me, contending that he is not an "academic racist", writing:
I think you should rethink your incorrect characterization of me as an "academic-racist"...I don't know whether group differences in cognitive ability or behavior have any genetic basis. (In fact, this particular question is not one of my main interests -- I am much more interested in the genetic architecture of cognitive ability than in its distribution over ethnic groups.)
I'm certainly willing to give Steve the benefit of the doubt here. I define "academic-racism" by a focus on ethnicity as a determinant of abilities, not by a belief in genetic determinants of ability. So if Steve says he doesn't care about ethnicity, I'll take him at his word. But of course you can read Steve's "race and ability" blog post and decide for yourself.

100 comments:

  1. "Then maybe I can fulfill my fantasy of being the dumbest guy in any given room."

    I hear the Heritage Foundation is still running.

    Though – if something came in pill/neurosurgical form, there would be (I think) a disproportionate inequality between the risk-averse and the rest of the population. Accounting for the fact that women disproportionately fall in the former category, I foresee in increase in gender inequality.

    And, unlike you, many might not share the altruistic (or selfish, in some ways) desire to be the dumbest in the room. If left to the private enterprise, those with access to the technology first (not necessarily the rich) should cut and run.

    Paul Ryan can then reenact Atlas Shrugged with the smartified running away to form an entirely sustainable society on an uninhabited island.

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    1. Bill Ellis5:40 PM

      Women account for 91% of all cosmetic surgery in the USA. They are definitely not risk adverse when it comes to medical procedures.

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  2. " the U.S. government must make sure to hack their databases, steal the data, and - assuming it's safe - make smart-ification available free for the masses."

    Yeah, right! More likely, grant them a 20 year patent, and make sure it's only available for $100K per offspring.

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  3. Noah's arrogance never ceases to amaze.

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    1. Why do you say that?

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    2. My guess is because you want to make people smart! You are such an elitist! :p

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    3. Well, there does seem to be some fraction of people who interpret any statement, by anyone, as arrogant (and in an uncertain Universe, maybe that's accurate)!

      I was just wondering if RN was one of those, or had a specific complaint...

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  4. Suppose you have a car that doesn't drive well -- won't start, overheats, whatever. You take it to the mechanic and ask what part of the car is making it drive badly, they figure out what that one part is, replace it, and problem solved.

    Now suppose you have a car that drives really well, some kind of fancy sports car. You take it to the mechanic, ask what part of the car is making it drive really well? And then they figure out what that one part is, and you can add it to your crappy old car and it will drive just as well. Right? Or maybe not?

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    1. Well, yeah, maybe not!

      Hey, I have no idea how plausible genetic smart-ification technology actually is. Maybe it'll never work. I do have high hopes for cyborg tech, though...

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  5. In fact, identifying specific genes for high intelligence would clearly indicate that race and intelligence are not fundamentally linked

    The genes for race and the genes for intelligence may not be fundamentally linked but if the presence or absence of genes for intelligence correlates with genes linked to "race" then there will be hell to pay.

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    1. Well, if they do find that, then smart-ification tech can just get rid of it, lickety-split.

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    2. I've met some smart blacks in my time and some dumb whites. Seems obvious in retrospect that race and intelligence really don't correlate perfectly well. So IQ boosting ought to work on all humans.

      That's point one. Secondly, I've seen estimates by knowledgable biologists that about one third of human genes are related to our brains. So we're likely to find not one or two but hundreds (or thousands!) of genes which can be tinkered with to raise intelligence. It would be extraordinary if one race or another had a genetic advantage or disadvantage if such tinkering were to take place.

      Point three, of course, is that if we have the capability to tinker with IQ, we will probably have as well the ability to select for disease resistence and longevity, and against susceptibility to Alzheimers and other debiliating conditions. We will be breeding super-humans in effect, and it's a legitimate topic of concern that the rich might have more access to this technology than the poor.

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    3. Over what period has human evolution being going on? Over what period did races develope? In fact I think it is MUCH more likely that there would be significant differences in intelligence based on gender, than on race (since gender has been evolving for hundreds of millions of years). But there isn't much if any.

      But what difference does it make? If there is variation within humans in general that is much greater than the differences between groups of humans (and that is the case) it is essentially irrelevant. We have to deal with both more and less intelligent people, regardless of "race" (and I also content that race is badly defined - unlike gender for instance).

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    4. By the way it is quite possible that the nature of slavery itself may have provided a selective force. But in that case it is not "race" that is the determining factor, but "descendents of slaves".

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  6. Lets predict what the US government *will* do "to provide equal opportunity for all citizens":

    1) Lend ever increasing amounts of money to prospective parents to keep up with ever increasing genetic engineering costs;

    2) Modify the bankruptcy code to make sure GE loans never die

    3) Modify the tax code to make GE loan interest tax deductible

    4) Modify estate laws to make sure the GE debt can pass to offspring (they *did* get the benefits)

    5) Permit IP owners to take equity claim on future earnings of offspring? It is, after all, their genes.

    The neoliberal imagination boggles! If you think bank balance sheets are big now, wait until they can lend against our human capital in perpetuity. It's like totally win-win for the bio-tech industry *and* the banks!

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  7. You might look at the Poul Anderson novel "Brainwave". There's
    an interesting suggestion that a sudden, humanity-wide boost in
    intelligence could cause a social collapse-- the idea being, as I
    remember it, that geniuses are recalictrant, they don't listen to
    anybody, they don't follow rules, they're unlikely to be happy
    working as garbage-men and plumbers, and so on.

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    1. Only because they're so much smarter by today's standards.

      This is addressed in the post. If everyone had an IQ of 120 on today's 110, suddenly the "smart" people wouldn't be... smart.

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    2. Anonymous11:32 AM

      Your recollection is incorrect. Mostly they got along pretty well; the few problems were solved gently.

      Of course, Anderson had no more idea what people with inhumanly high IQs would really be like than I do.

      Back in the 30s A. E. van Vogt really went for the gold. He wrote a story titled "IQ 10000." To write the story he had his quasi-god masquerading as someone with an IQ of 120 until the last couple of sentences.

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    3. I take out the garbage at home, and as measured normally, I'm pretty smart. It doesn't bother me, because it is not WHO I AM, it is just something that I'M DOING. The tendency to associate our jobs with our identity is the problem, and this I contend is something we got from our heirarchical animal heritage, it is not related to our quite orthogonal reasoning ability. We need to stop being apes. Maybe if we are smarter we will decide to grow up.

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  8. bjdubbs5:48 PM

    I must have confused it with H. State U.

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    1. Hehe, Hawaii State University doesn't exist... ;-)

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    2. Anonymous9:18 PM

      Humboldt State University, maybe?

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  9. Niklas7:03 PM

    Just a thought. If,say all people now have IQ ranging from 60-200. Then we're raising it by 80. All people will have IQ that range from 140-280. Haven't we implicitly said to the people that now have an IQ below 140 that they don't really fit into our brave new world? We want to genetically change them, because they aren't good enough. Yes, we're raising everybody's IQ, but the ones that have 140 from the start wouldn't need the "raise" to fit in to our new world. Isn't this all a bit "übermensch"-thinking? Or am I exaggerating?

    I don't know, but erasing what we perceive as "weakness" among humans is a bit sketchy to me, and could all go wrong very fast. So, we should think hard and deep about this before celebrating. At least that's my opinion.

    That said, your idea isn't necessarily wrong, or bad, I just think that one has to really think about these things.

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    1. Redwood Rhiadra7:01 PM

      Well, the idea is that babies with potential IQ 200 wouldn't get any benefit - they *already* have the super-intelligence gene. So instead of 60-200 IQs, you get 140-200 IQs - the disparity of IQs is greatly reduced.

      (That said, I don't think it's possible - JW Mason's car analogy above is a good one. Brains are highly complex - even more than cars, and there's no one part or gene, or even a reasonably small number, that can be fixed up to produce a really smart brain.)

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  10. I'm proud always to be the sharpest chap in the shower.

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  11. Anonymous7:25 PM

    Ugh. Of all the Noah Smiths, the wide-eyed, techno-evangelist, science-fiction-geek Noah Smith is my least favorite one.

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    1. Chris7:31 PM

      He's my favorite Noah Smith!

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    2. Anonymous8:01 PM

      Brain implants for everyone!

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    3. Can I get a tiebreaking vote?

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    4. Bill Ellis5:56 PM

      Noah Smith is the best Noah Smith.

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  12. We have already experienced this. It's called the Flynn Effect.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flynn_effect

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  13. Anonymous8:28 PM

    I'm honestly curious why that Hsu blog post is racist? It appears that he suspects there maybe a correlation between "race" and IQ - don't we know asians have, on average, higher IQs? And Europeans Jews higher variances?

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    1. Anonymous11:41 PM

      I guess the problem is that the academic racists are correct.
      There is almost no evidence for equality between races on IQ dimensions or even regression type evidence suggesting that we could be equal if all things were controlled (of course, the regressions leave out the genetic stuff, but once included we presumably would be equal; it's not the damn that causes anything, it just happens that phenotypic differences correlate because of assortative mating - when you put it that way you're allowed to say it :))

      Fortunately, with PC showing no signs of abating, it might be possible to keep the charade going until the race-neutral smartification technology arrives before disaster actually strikes and that's what Noah is probably hoping for.

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    2. Anonymous11:42 PM

      *it's not the color that causes anything

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    3. Bill Ellis6:27 PM

      Anonymous says..."I guess the problem is that the academic racists are correct".

      Stephen Jay Gould disagreed...

      "Race and intelligence: A sorry tale of shoddy science
      The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould exposes the shameful history of research into race and IQ. "
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/nov/12/race-intelligence-iq-science

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    4. Anonymous1:42 PM

      That particular work by Stephen Jay Gould (and the Darwinian theory variant he came up with - punctuated equilibrium) has been thoroughly debunked over the last twenty years. You can literally Wikipedia the rebuttals. His twin hypotheses could have been true, but it turned out to not to be so.

      On the other hand, study after study cranks out the same depressing conclusion "no, we are not equal across groups for intelligence, athleticism, risk and time preferences, and there is nothing non-genetic you can control for that will make us so."

      Furthermore, how could you simultaneously believe in evolution and science, but not believe that humans in isolated geographic areas are subject to the same effects over say 1000 years? How could anyone who has taken Bayesian statistics and an introductory evolution course believe this? My guess is mood affiliation [although Noah has, more honestly than other equalists, provided some anecdotes as to why he has faith in equality].

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  14. Anonymous11:26 PM

    Hi Noah. I'm with you on this. I think making everybody smarter would be to humankind's social and economic benefit.

    Of course, there is much to be questioned about "intelligence." It's too broad a term and probably a counter-productive one. (And IQ should certainly NOT be the measure of it.) Rather than an "intelligence" gene, it would make much more sense to isolate genes which boost memory, or improve concentration, or help us recognize patterns, &c. Many factors go in to intelligence and many people are intelligent in different ways. But I'm sure people studying this already know it.

    Bring on the cyborgs!

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  15. You know, I think that if we got to see this experiment play out in the real world and everyone's IQ was raised 80 points, I think we'd quickly see that IQ is a very weak measure of what is commonly defined as intelligence. It is a measure of language and visuo-spatial skills under very controlled conditions. In real world situations, different circumstances probably limit and enhance these two parameters in various (possibly nonlinear) ways. Not to mention the failure of IQ to measure creativity, emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, tenacity, etc. And I say that as a person with a pretty high IQ (140+) who to some degree envies the intelligence of many people with significantly lesser IQs

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    1. Yeah I was being sloppy...of course I don't just mean IQ, I mean all kinds of cognitive tasks...

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    2. It's not you being sloppy, it's Hsu & co.

      If we can find the genetic markers for social and emotional intelligence, I (and many others) would be interested in an implant that helps me make better conversation at the bus stop, and that helps me read people playing poker. I'd be interested in implants that make me a better dancer, or that gives me absolute pitch, or eidetic memory.

      But Hsu's work is IQ-centric. I guess that's an interesting starting point. But I don't think this research will really yield much until it is expanded to other parameters...

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    3. Anonymous1:11 AM

      The problem is that IQ, beauty, income and other things are all correlated because of A. assortative mating (genetic) and B. genetic errors leading to bad things (usually) tend to cluster when there is even a single causal environmental factor (lead in the water, radiation, poor nutrition, and a generally shitty time in the womb).

      In general, the effect of smartification will lead to higher relative class divisions (because now stupid people will be stupid because the environmental factors that have lead to that will have done damage to them on every dimension, rather than just having bad genes but a healthy environment) but with everyone at a higher level. It's going to be interesting to see what happens.

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    4. The so-called "correlation" between IQ and income:

      http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/files/blogger2wp/2Methods-Zagorsky00-RelationshipbetweenIQandIncome.png

      If that's what we're going to call a correlation, then I'm Paul Krugman...

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    5. Anonymous1:28 AM

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation

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    6. It's fairly clear that what you meant a tighter positive correlation than what there is. The reality is closer to white noise than y∝x.

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    7. Anonymous11:16 AM

      You're not following the principle of charity. I also don't expect every supermodel to be a genius, but you picked up on the one factoid you knew something about and ran with your (incorrect) interpretation of my post.

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    8. Your third point about clustering via environmental effects seems (mostly) correct, but your first point (which it is intended to partially explain) is unrealistic. r=0.28. I'd call a loose positive correlation 0.4, and a strong positive correlation 0.8. Your corollary seems highly speculative, and cannot be assessed without some real-world data on "smartification".

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    9. Anonymous1:48 PM

      Actually, I gave it a second thought, and it seems like I was being incharitable. My point is that once the genetics are controlled for, environment is going to be become that much more important for determining EVERYTHING because of clustering.

      With everyone getting 40 point IQ boosts (essentially eliminating the genetic factors in the regression and replacing them with constants) I expect supermodels to be much smarter than average because their fitness suggests they've had a superior environment. That IQ-income link ought to become a lot tighter (but at a higher level for both).

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  16. "If the distribution of smart-ification technology is left to the private sector, rich people will start having much smarter kids than middle-class or poor people"

    Unless it just gets so cheap that pretty much anyone can afford it, which it might.

    Neat movie on this, Limitless. Have you seen it?

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    1. In which case we REALLY have to worry about IP. When are we going to finally admit that IP needs rethinking.

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  17. Everythings Jake1:45 AM

    There is too much interest in "intelligence" and not nearly enough in "wisdom." They are distinctly different things - knowing how to do vs. knowing when and why to do, if at all. Too many intelligent people have done, on balance, extremely unwise things.

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  18. I think it's more likely that there are lots of genes of small effect than any genes associated with very high IQ. I'm also a lefty who supports this kind of thing.

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  19. Remember Alan Kay's famous dictum: "Viewpoint is worth 80 IQ points."? Carol Dweck's mindset work seems to indicate that this is pretty close to literally true.

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  20. What is the definition of academic-racist?

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    1. professional racist

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    2. Redwood Rhiadra7:08 PM

      A racist with a PhD and tenure. Known for using their degree and position to get people to believe in their shoddy arguments. (Sadly, the argument from authority fallacy works on a great many people.) Hsu's a physicist, rather than a biologist, but he runs around claiming to be an expert on human biology, and people believe him because he's got the "Dr." in front of his name.

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    3. And note, almost never is the Ph.D. in any subject even vaguely related to the claims they make. By contrast, I have yet to meet a human geneticist (and I've met quite a few, since my father is one) who thought there was any genetic basis for race. Sure there are groups (though fewer and fewer) that have been isolated for the 10's of thousands of years it takes to make any noticeable genetic changes and sure they have specific genetic profiles that are slightly different than others. But the groupings we consider to make up different 'races' cover huge and extremely genetically diverse populations.

      Actually, the problem of academic racists is a mini-version of one of the chief problems with the idea that raising IQ is a good thing or that it would improve people's lives: Why do people believe someone who's completely ignorant of a subject just because he has a Ph.D. in another subject? Because they think he's 'smart'. Intelligence + Ignorance + Arrogance = a pretty good definition of stupidity in my book.

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  21. Making everybody smarter might be a great idea, Noah. But I think we can predict that as this technology emerges it is unlikely, given our current social arrangements, that it will be distributed equally.

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  22. Even accepting your broad definition of intelligence from the foot note, i think this is an aim of only modest interest.

    Here is the problem, what do we measure an increase in intelligence against? If we use the premise in this post that we measure against each other, an 80 point increase is meaningful. However if we measure against all knowledge or what could be known an 80 point increase is essentially unobservable.

    The pleasure of being the dumbest guy in the room largely comes from being with people who have a high sense of awareness of just how little they know.

    I am strongly in favor of progress and anything that expands our human capacity. Just pointing out that this is like going to the moon, it may be a great step for mankind but it's a bit of a joke compared to the scale of the universe. You have to start somewhere, and the frontier is limitless.

    Scarcity is the spice of life.

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  23. Intelligence (and it isn't at all well defined) is an important but minor part of what constitutes a •good• person. If you look at human problems logically (!) you might conclude that there are other characteristics (kindness, empathy) which would be more profitable to enhance.

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    1. Of course. See my earlier post on Desire Modification, the ultimate technology!

      http://noahpinionblog.blogspot.com/2012/08/desire-modification-ultimate-technology.html

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  24. Anonymous9:56 AM

    Suppose smartification is just from fetal development in the womb of a happy, safe, healthy and secure mother and then a healthy balance of nurturing, stimulation, discipline and competent and confident role models in the first six years of childhood development. Just saying, in-attention and problem solving incompetence was never an evolutionary advantage among home sapiens.

    Darryl FKA Ron

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    1. Anonymous11:23 AM

      "Suppose smartification is just from fetal development in the womb of a happy, safe, healthy and secure mother and then a healthy balance of nurturing, stimulation, discipline and competent and confident role models in the first six years of childhood development. Just saying, in-attention and problem solving incompetence was never an evolutionary advantage among home sapiens."

      There is strong evidence that IQ does not give one an evolutionary advantage even today.

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  25. Mark Jamison10:07 AM

    In any room it would have been likely that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz would have had among the highest IQs and yet they advocated some awfully dumb things. Ted Cruz is undoubtedly possessed of genius level IQ but for all intents and purposes he's a raving idiot.

    There's intellectual IQ and there's emotional IQ and maybe a bit of hybrid that's social IQ. Parsing complex and sophisticated economic models may take a certain level of smarts but applying the insights gained from those models in an imperfect world where the variables don't sit still long enough to conform to the model's expectations or where the human element becomes irrational, possibly predictably so but nevertheless always maddeningly so, takes a whole different form of intelligence.
    There's a great Kurt Vonnegut story where instead of making everyone more capable we achieve equality by handicapping the brilliant. So the fastest guy has to wear a sewer grate chained around his neck and the smartest guy is equipped with a buzzer that goes off intermittently making complete thoughts impossible. Given human nature any attempt to smartify would probably be met with an offsetting regimen designed to stupefy.
    Still, it was a nice post Noah.

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    1. Sure, universal intelligence boosts won't improve every area of human competence, and they won't make everyone equal in ability either. It would just be a good thing to do.

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    2. Mark Jamison11:59 AM

      Maybe it would be a good thing to do. Maybe it would just create more finance professors and quants which might be good for those individuals but.....
      The more I think about this the more disturbing I find it. Pure intelligence will certainly lead us to some grander discoveries in medicine or quantum physics but it's not a guarantee of any greater human understanding or compassion which, no matter to what degree you raise IQ's across the board which will still be necessary in a world of differences.
      If 25% of the population had the necessary IQ to understand the details of quantum physics or high end finance what actual impact would that have on human kind?
      This idea also begins to wander into Eugenics which I find a bit frightening although, being a fan of sci-fi you may find H.G. Welles take in The New Machiavellians interesting. For balance perhaps Bill McKibbens - Enough.
      Of course looking at this in a different way we could argue that we could get significant IQ gains at the lower end of the spectrum by improving nutrition, education, and general living standards for many of the poor.
      Finally, boosting some levels of human competence while ignoring others that may be equally or more important strikes me as the ultimate in hubris- Icarus redact.

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  26. I'm not particularly worried about JW Mason's concern that you can't just mix n match genes. After all, that's what sexual reproduction does: randomly selecting chromosomes *and* randomly recombining them creating arbitrary combinations of genes. The process is a lot more random and undiscriminating than what will be done in a lab. If you can take a gene from a frost resistant fish and put it in a tomato, I really don't see how you are going to have problems substituting slightly different genes between two human chromosomes. The whole process just isn't that fragile. If anything, it's incredibly robust.

    AFAIK there is currently a fair bit of focus on just adding an additional human artificial chromosome (HAC) with lots of useful genes. It's much easier to add a new chromosome to a germ cell than it is to pull one out, replace some genes, and put it back in.

    I'd bet we'll be significantly engineering our offspring within the next 10-20 years. The consequences for society and development over the next few generations will be staggering. This really is the end of human evolution and the beginning of intelligent design.

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    1. Anonymous5:54 AM

      design, yes. intelligent, we have reason to doubt.

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    2. Para-evolution? Re-evolution? It's still evolution.

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  27. Let me be pedantic (yes, I read your disclaimer on IQ):

    You cannot change the average (mean) IQ by adding 80 points. The mean will still be 100.

    100 point IQ is supposed to be the center of the bell curve in the population. (Yes, intelligence is assumed to have a normal distribution)

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    1. Anonymous6:51 PM

      But in Lake Wobegon, all the children are above average.

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    2. You can change the average 2013 constant-mean IQ, though. So this argument doesn't persuade me.

      Also, the children of Lake Wobegon need to get out more.

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  28. Bill Ellis5:28 PM

    Too bad there is no comparable effort to find Empathy Genes.

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  29. Noah et al,

    We could smartify the whole population right now, evenly, by the equivalent of 40 IQ points without any medical research or genetic treatments.

    Simply eliminating the influences which, day and night, dumbify us all would get us there in a generation. Advertising and propaganda, though obvious influences, are far from the most pernicious. Neither of those would work without other influences which make them function.

    A societal understanding and respect for facts and logic, a willingness to tackle problems with patience, an awareness of the psychological effects of anxiety and fear and determination to sideline anxieties before they push large populations into irrational behaviour, a preference for generosity, the building in of lots of excess capacity (overdesigning, as my electrical engineer dad made his watchword, which allows systems to still function well even under high loads) ... All these approaches would make us effectively smarter, just as their opposites are currently making us behave as though we are profoundly dumb.

    Noni

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    1. Noni
      there is a whole book waiting in this sentence:
      "the building in of lots of excess capacity (overdesigning, as my electrical engineer dad made his watchword, which allows systems to still function well even under high loads) ... "

      Economists for some odd reason seem totally obsessed with efficiency. Resiliance is every bit as important. And competition is a bit ambivalent about that, which is significant in itself. Active monopolistic competition tends to increase productive capacity as no competitor can be certain what its ex-post market share will be (and there are some selective benefits to optimism and costs to pessimism.) But if competition results in concentration, (or alternatively with perfect competition and non-increasing returns to scale) then efficiency is the highest priority. Then there are issues with network effects and co-ordination when disparate technologies are used. And there are issues with the introduction of risky innovative technology (where it may not pay to be an innovator but may pay to be a copier - so nobody makes the first step).

      It seems to me to be much neglected - at least popular presentations of the issues are rare. I'm pretty agnostic about what the ideal solution might look like.

      Delete
  30. Genetic engineering/modification of this sort is inevitable and only delayed by a lack of technological know-how. Even if we push to prohibit it, it'll eventually be in our best interest to allow for it if other countries (clearly China being one of them) successfully pursue it. And the rest of the able world will have no choice but to keep up. The prospect of Gattaca happening in my lifetime does make me somewhat uncomfortable.

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  31. Given the ghastly alternative to human genetic engineering and other forms of transhumanism (see e.g. titles like "Too Smart for Our Own Good: The Ecological Predicament of Humankind"—which before any responds includes a chapter "...and Too Dumb to Change"), I find the resistance to this idea rather strange.

    Perhaps it's some kind of status quo bias.

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  32. PC Police, Academic Racist Division8:46 AM

    Ha, Smith thinks that selling out Hsu will cover his tracks. Classic move.

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  33. Noah, there was no information on the e-mail that wasn't on the links you provided. If the e-mail made you change your mind, that's a strong evidence that you didn't read the links, or didn't read them carefully.

    You really should stop talking about this subject, it brings the worst out of you.

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  34. Anonymous12:28 PM

    This PC vigilantism ("academic racist!") against people who believes there are real differences between populational groups is like a 2013's farcical rerun of "shut down racist-biological-determinist E. O. Wilson" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._O._Wilson#Criticism_of_human_sociobiology) or "shut down racist-biological determinist Napoleon Chagnon" (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/hey_wait_a_minute/2000/10/jungle_fever.html).

    Grow up, please! This "liberal-minded" lynch mob is getting really stale...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But look...why should anyone care about "group differences"?

      Individual differences are the ones that are important.

      Here's what I mean. Suppose Koreans have, on average, 10 more IQ points than Irish people. Who gives a fuck? How is that fact useful? What are the policy conclusions?

      What I want is a technology that will let my friends do what Terence Tao can do. Knowing whether Koreans are on average a little bit smarter than Irish people doesn't really help me.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous1:19 PM

      Maybe we would want to research the genes and the historical-biological-whatever factors that made ashkenazy jews and east asians a little smarter than the european average? Maybe we would want to know if evolution happenened in historical times? If it had an impact on the success of some groups on conquering other lands (Bantus in Africa - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bantu_expansion -; Indo Europeans in Eurasia). Maybe we just think it is a bad idea policing what other people want to know? Maybe we just want to abide to the true liberal principle of: "live and let live". Or maybe we want to simply know the truth of the matter? Pick your choice.

      Delete
    3. Maybe we would want to research the genes and the historical-biological-whatever factors that made ashkenazy jews and east asians a little smarter than the european average?

      I mean...maybe. People would probably be interested in that. But it wouldn't really be useful. First of all, those differences are too small to be useful; to really find useful stuff, you need huge differences, which is why our best bet is to study super-genius individuals like Terence Tao, not large-group differences. Second of all, accidents of history can't be reproduced in real-time; if we're going to get intelligence boosts, reproducing historical selection pressures is NOT going to be how we do it. Instead, what we'll probably do is find some gene patterns that produce super-genius individuals, and "knock in" these patterns in humans.

      Maybe we would want to know if evolution happenened in historical times? If it had an impact on the success of some groups on conquering other lands

      I guess some people will be curious about this, just like people are curious about how the Universe began or why dinosaurs turned into birds...

      Maybe we just think it is a bad idea policing what other people want to know?

      Hey, calling someone an asshole or idiot is not the same as "policing" them...it's more in the category of "taunting"...

      I taunt academic-racists because they don't really seem interested in science at all - they seem mainly interested in politics, and preventing other ethnicities from sleeping with their daughters - but they keep claiming the mantle of noble truth-seeking scientific inquiry, which annoys me. I don't think society should force academic-racists to shut up. But I wish they would shut up on their own, simply because they annoy me.

      Delete
    4. Up there I said:

      "You really should stop talking about this subject, it brings the worst out of you."

      Now you are saying:

      "But I wish they would shut up on their own, simply because they annoy me."

      Do you see what I mean?

      Delete
    5. Anonymous12:50 PM

      "But look...why should anyone care about "group differences"?

      Individual differences are the ones that are important.

      Here's what I mean. Suppose Koreans have, on average, 10 more IQ points than Irish people. Who gives a fuck? How is that fact useful? What are the policy conclusions? "

      This is more defensible than the usual stuff you publish on this topic, but it is extremely important for development policy.
      If you know that Africans are one std. dev below Europe and you also know that they're malnourished, optimal on-the-ground policy varies between giving them food and giving them capital.

      Delete
  35. Anonymous1:53 PM

    In the case of ashkenazi jews the difference may not be that small -- it could be as large as one standard variation. As you know, this translates as overepresantation on really high IQs (if it is a trait normally distributed). If so, research in this area could help understand better phenomena like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Jewish_chess_players, or this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Jewish_Nobel_laureates, orthis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_von_Neumann.

    We really don't know yet, and certainly the ideological viligantism against people who research these controversial field doesn't help in dispelling our ignorance.

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    Replies
    1. Even if that were the case, a 1-standard-deviation difference is pretty small in terms of actually helping to isolate useful genes (Steve Hsu will verify this). That's why BGI is assembling a group of 5-standard-deviation individuals. The difference in z-scores for 5-s differences and 1-s differences is enormous, plus there are qualitative results you can isolate a lot better from the very-different samples. Essentially, looking genetically at Ashkenazi Jews will almost certainly be useless.

      We really don't know yet, and certainly the ideological viligantism against people who research these controversial field doesn't help in dispelling our ignorance.

      Actually I think it does. Purging the academic-racists will only help the cause of people who want to study intelligence for purely scientific motives. And it won't hurt the science one bit. So I'm all for conducting this purge.

      Delete
    2. Anonymous12:54 PM

      "Actually I think it does. Purging the academic-racists will only help the cause of people who want to study intelligence for purely scientific motives. And it won't hurt the science one bit. So I'm all for conducting this purge."
      __________

      Purging the real-business cycle theorists will only help the cause of people who want to study economics for purely scientific motives. And it won't hurt the science one bit. So I'm all for conducting this purge.

      Purging the relativists will only help the cause of people who want to study physics for purely scientific motives. And it won't hurt the science one bit. So I'm all for conducting this purge.

      Purging the mendelians will only help the cause fo people who want to study agriculture for purely scientific motives. And it won't hurt the science one bit. So I'm all for conducting this purge.

      Are you wiser now?

      Delete
  36. It's worth a try, but my guess is that the study will not find much. Rather than a magic "smart gene", there are probably hundreds of subtle genetic variations that each contribute a small amount to IQ variation.

    A more fruitful approach might be to study people with very specific types of abnormal intelligence, not general intelligence. Those cases could be due to a few small changes.

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  37. Anonymous5:21 PM

    I'm all for genetic research, but this is a really bad way to go about improving intelligence. The cyborg thing is a much better and faster route.

    First of all, assuming that you can even find genetic markers that correlate with cognitive abilities and isolate alleles or other mutations that code for improved ability, you still have the problem of identifying the trade-offs. There's plenty of reason to believe that any genetic trait that just simply makes someone smarter would have dominated the competition and thus the "dumber" alleles or mutations would have died out. If there is remaining genetic diversity in cognitive tasks, it is either there because there's an associated cost that isn't always worth paying, or because it is such a recent development it hasn't had a chance to take over.

    If it's the former, then you don't want to just blindly give every kid the smart version, because you might be creating some huge weakness or additional burden on that generation. But then how do you decide who gets to be smart and who doesn't?

    If it's the latter, then you might be in business, but you still have to be careful that you aren't hurting future generations more by cutting off evolutionary pathways than you are helping them by adding "good" genes. In other words, whatever gene you switch everyone to might be a local maximum that can't be improved by incremental mutation, but the one that it was competing with could have been on a different slope, and thus had access to a much higher maximum. So you improve the intelligence of the next few generations at the expense of all the later ones.

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  38. Anonymous6:07 PM

    "There's plenty of reason to believe that any genetic trait that just simply makes someone smarter would have dominated the competition and thus the "dumber" alleles or mutations would have died out."

    Actually no: you're forgetting that there is genetic load (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_load). The vast majority of variations are slightly detrimental. One third of our genes are actively expressed on the brain. So, if you could exchange less frequent variations for the most frequent ones it is almost certain that it would not result in loss of function -- au contraire, mon frère.

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  39. Anonymous1:29 PM

    Economic status remains the strongest predictor of measured intelligence. The best thing a society can do is improve living conditions for it's members. Even now cities vary in the amount of lead the average child consumes and starvation and disease are still endemic. The most effective step is still the removal of intelligence degradators rather than genetic or medical interventions.

    Others have addressed the ambiguities about intelligence: creativity, effectiveness, persuasiveness and social intelligence, mental stability, grasp of detail or overall picture, memory and deep understanding are all quite different intelligences that influence how happy and useful a person is. Remember that brains are a complex network many sub-brains with interacting and conflicting characteristics- an eagle has spectacular visual processing but it's still a bird brain.

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  40. People need to learn more about computer science, there are things there that could change their entire worldview. In about 1935, a number of people, including Alan Turing and Emil Post, proved that basically anyone who can read, write and follow written instructions could think any thought that it is possible for anyone to think. When you have achieved this capability, you have experienced a "singularity event". Many ten-year-olds can do it, some college graduates never make it to that level.

    Put another way and abusing both the brain and Thomas Edison, "intelligence is 10% hardware and 90% software." What makes for the so-called racial difference in intelligence is mostly not due to neurogenetic factors but to cultural attitudes towards studying hard and test-taking skills.

    If you want to be smart, hang around with smart people and make them teach you the same approaches to problem solving that they use; including their tricks and shortcuts. Read George Polya's great little book about heuristics, "How to Solve It".

    If you want to change the world, give every child a jailbroken solar-powered smartphone and an unlimited data account. Many of them will spend all their time researching how to be cool instead of how to be smart, but more than you think will learn more than you can imagine.

    By the way, the van Vogt story with the high-IQ protagonist was probably "Asylum". His natural IQ was actually 1200, but compared to the lesser races of Klugg (IQ 250) and Lennel (IQ 400) and his newspaperman persona with IQ 112, he was indeed godlike. And space vampires!

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  41. Lone Cicada6:33 AM

    The word racist connotates hatred or irrationality. You should be wary of the way you recklessly throw around that word, Mr. Economist derp-man.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Noah writes: "I define "academic-racism" by a focus on ethnicity as a determinant of abilities, not by a belief in genetic determinants of ability."

    But ethnicity and genetics are all mixed up together. Human biodiversity at both the individual and population level are a tremendous challenge to anyone who wants to maintain (as I am sure you do) our liberal, democratic ideals and institutions, including, above all, the ideal of human equality. Your goody-two shoes approach is both naive and intellectually cowardly in my judgment. There is no use hiding your head in the sand. Realism is the first desideratum of moral responsibility in this world. Anything less is defeatism.

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    Replies
    1. I consider myself an extreme realist. But realism and optimism don't always conflict, IMHO.

      Human biodiversity at both the individual and population level are a tremendous challenge to anyone who wants to maintain (as I am sure you do) our liberal, democratic ideals and institutions, including, above all, the ideal of human equality.

      Yes, it is a huge challenge.

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