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Your Brain is Being Augmented, You Just Don't Realize It
The breakthrough innovation development of the year so far is the White House’s upcoming plan to map the entire human brain. By essentially enabling us to reverse-engineer the human brain, the Brain Activity Map proposed by scientists such as Harvard's George Church will forever change the way we think about artificial intelligence and potentially open up the door to new cures for mental illnesses. However, many of these developments may be a decade away -- or even several decades away. What’s less understood are all the myriad of ways that our brains are being augmented right now, today, in subtle ways that we may not even realize.
Slowly but surely, we’re moving our individual brains into the cloud, enabling us to know more, experience more and remember more -- all the while believing that it is our individual brain that is responsible for amazing feats of cognitive ability. On a daily basis, we're tapping into the accumulated knowledge of thousands - if not millions - of others with a simple tap or swipe on our mobile devices. Think about it – every day, each of us carries around in our pockets more computing power and access to more information than was available to our nation's scientists at NASA during the peak years of the lunar space program. And, as the amount of information on the Internet continues to grow exponentially, so does our access to this information.
The youngest generation, which grew up with all this technology, already recognizes this. They know that they do not actually have to learn anything - they just have to know where to find it in the cloud. Google, far from making us stupid, is actually making us smarter than ever imagined. This is especially true now that we've added geolocation tools to our mobile devices. Take, Google Maps, for example. In an interview with The Atlantic, Google's Michael Jones explained that Google Search and Google Maps may be worth an extra 20 points on your IQ:
"For instance, right now people walk around looking at directions on phones. In the future, the phone will signal you -- go left or straight ahead -- in words or sounds in your ear, or visually through your glasses, so you can just look where you're going and walk. It'll be like you're a local everywhere you go. You'll know your way through the back alleys and hutongs of Beijing, you'll know your way all around Paris even if you've never been before. Signs will seem to translate themselves for you. This kind of extra-smartness is coming to people. Effectively, people are about 20 IQ points smarter now because of Google Search and Maps. They don't give Google credit for it, which is fine; they think they're smarter, because they can rely on these tools. It's one reason they get so upset if the tools are inaccurate or let them down. They feel like a fifth of their brain has been taken out."
Google is already looking into ways that it can make its Android devices smarter by actually mimicking the structure and function of the human brain. When that happens, you will think of your mobile phone not just as a browser, but also as an adjunct brain available upon demand. That’s just the beginning, however. As Ray Kurzweil has explained before to believers in the Singularity, the future human of the mid-21st century will be a hybrid between man and machine, where the human-computer interface is largely invisible. The gap between animate and inanimate knowlege will be unrecognizable. Right now, every time you deal with a typical computer interface – like a screen or keyboard – you know that you are dealing with a computer. In the future, that won’t be the case. You will ask your friend a question, and you will have absolutely no idea where your friend got the answer. Nor will you care. Hewlett-Packard is already working on a personal avatar interface for the cloud -- a concierge that you can access at any time, across any platform or any device.
The really radical view of brain augmentation, however, does not come from the world of Silicon Valley - it comes from the world of chemistry, which is giving us an entirely new generation of designer DNA drugs. Just as athletes now rely on performance-enhancing drugs to achieve incredible new feats (yes, Mr. Armstrong, I'm talking to you) - everyday people may one day use designer drugs to enhance memory and cognitive ability. In Chapter 5 of their TED book Homo Evolutis, Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans suggest several ways that that we may use drugs to change the chemistry of our brains in the pursuit of peak performance. When combined with breakthroughs in genetic engineering, we may even be on the cusp of creating a new species of human with vastly improved powers of cognition, learning and memory.
What it all means, of course, is that the Singularity may not be a single event, as we typically think of it. It will not be a Rapture of the Nerds, where we remind Siri to wake us up early to witness the blinding light of the Singularity during which we are all transformed into gods. Instead, the future augmentation of our brains will be much more gradual and nuanced. Once we started to consider our mobile devices to be extensions of our physical bodies - carrying them around with us wherever we go and imbuing them with characteristics such as personality - we set into motion a complex chain reaction of events that made the future hybrid of man and machine a certainty. 20 points on your IQ was just the start.
image: Short Circuit in Businessman Computer Brain / Shutterstock
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Credit: NAOJ<p><em>Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.</em></p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.