Overclocking the Human CPU

Overclocking the Human CPU

Although the human imagination is capable of many things, it is very difficult to imagine being smarter than we are now. We may be able to envision a life where the average human can hold hundreds of facts in working memory and manipulate them all with perfect accuracy and efficiency, but it is hard to imagine what that would feel like. How much more would we “know” due to the heightened capacity of our super-genius intellect? Would the feeling be cold and computer-like; would it be eerily prescient and clairvoyant? Would it be god-like?

These are more than just rhetorical questions. While we 21st century humans are currently locked within the framework of our genetic neural architecture, our species has gotten to the point where we can routinely tweak and build on the physical traits we’re born into with some training, chemical or surgical tinkering, and/or targeted genetic alteration. Messing with the fabric of human intelligence may be an ethical black area in today’s climate, but superintelligence research is well under way in many forms right now. We’re heading into a future we can hardly begin to imagine with our primitive brains.

Human intelligence is already progressing in ways we cannot accurately measure. The sheer force of evolution, culture, and centuries of written language has imprinted our neural DNA with the networks needed to process abstract symbols and draw complex hypothetical conclusions based on available data sets. This is the core of human intelligence: the ability to compare, contrast, and juxtapose sets of data against each other in order to draw accurate conclusions and predict likely outcomes.

Unfortunately, our mental toolkit is comically weak, allowing us to only hold five to seven variables for comparing and contrasting at any one time, and constantly needing to “dump” whatever is in working memory when distracted by new tasks. Lame! Not only is our working bandwidth low, our long-term memory is lossy, leaving us to rely on external storage methods (ideas encoded in symbols or bits) to communicate rational output to other people and keep track of all the new “information” we create over time. For creatures that have short unpredictable lives, this limited setup might be okay, but for modern humans it leaves us wanting more, better, faster.

Since we have external memory storage down (thanks, Internet!), this leaves personal working-memory bandwidth the most lacking of human traits in our time. In biophysical terms the bandwidth of our intelligence is limited to a tiny conduit of neural cables running from our working memory in the brain’s frontal lobes, back to the abstract symbol processing networks in the parietal lobes, and back to the working memory again. This intelligence circuit is where all the heavy-duty puzzle solving goes down when you’re reading a map or working a Sudoku grid. Human problemsolving requires that data moving along this circuit be fast for focus and precision (good conductivity) and robust for complexity of thought (dense wiring). Increased speed and connectivity along this circuit is where the future of human intelligence lies, and there are only a few ways to get it moving in the right direction.

Since we have external memory storage down (thanks, Internet!), this leaves personal working-memory bandwidth the most lacking of human traits in our time.

At one point in time it seemed that drugs were the answer to this question: Dexedrine and piracetam, cognitive enhancers, ginko, ephedra, nootropics, and the like. While these supplements are indeed nifty for achieving short-term focus and mental clarity, they seem to only milk the limited capacity of our current wetware without providing the instantaneous multi-point IQ boost we would expect from our “smart drugs.” Drugs can increase human intelligence temporarily by increasing the speed and conductivity along the intelligence circuit. However, most of the evidence to date suggests that the brain will eventually begin to power-down or tip into psychotic states if this method is used or abused for too long. To build long-term conductivity you need to train your mental reflexes just as you would train your hand-eye reflexes, and like any training this takes long periods of discipline to see even limited results. Books, video games, and websites that focus on multistage puzzle solving in strict time limits (yes, I’m talking about Tetris) are probably the best way to get the logic circuit wires crackling and ready for more complex problem-solving, but what about improving the robust capacity we crave?

Data capacity, bandwidth, or robustness along the intelligence circuit is the main shortcoming of human intelligence, and what divides the geniuses from the morons. In real terms, this metric defines how many abstract symbols we can hold in working memory at any one time while still performing rational analysis on those objects. For instance, how many words from the last paragraph could you recall if you closed your eyes right now? Could you remember enough words to complete a simple seventeen- syllable haiku in thirty seconds or less without any errors? No? Why not?

If you can do it you’re probably a genius, because that means you have the capacity to hold at least ten or more random words in your working memory while performing rule-based contextual algorithms to rearrange logical syntactical output under strict time limits. A computer could do it in a snap, but the limitations of our working memory make this all but impossible. This capacity is a trait we cannot easily improve in a lifetime, not without radical mental training, dodgy neural steroid hormones, or even dodgier drug-induced neural plasticity. What we do know is that this capacity for robust intelligence is genetically inherited, which naturally gives some people the upper hand. According to Richard Haier of the University of California, Irvine, one of the initial founders of the Parieto-Frontal Integration Theory (P-FIT, referred to here as the intelligence circuit), “Genetic research has demonstrated that intelligence levels can be inherited, and since genes work through biology, there must be a biological basis for intelligence.”

…scientists find a common splice for increasing the efficiency of learning and… neurotrophin supply at specific neural targets, leading to targeted neural growth and plasticity in mammalian neural networks

Since there is most likely a biological basis for intelligence, and intelligence is considered to be a positive survival trait, it is reasonable to assume that humans will get smarter over time just by having sex and making babies, which is a fun (but slow) way to go about solving this problem. The imposed pressures of modern society – such as requisite cultural literacy and basic math skills – also drive the trend toward smarter humans, but simple education and evolution aren’t enough for some people. How do we get people to become more intelligent within a single generation?

…scientists find a common splice for increasing the efficiency of learning and… neurotrophin supply at specific neural targets, leading to targeted neural growth and plasticity in mammalian neural networks

There are a few popular answers to this question. The first is that humans take advantage of brain-computer-interfaces (BCI) to create more robust “offsite” memory and logic processing in a small microchip we keep implanted in our chest or shoulder. The technological foundation for making this work exists today, and is currently used to effectively treat Parkinson’s disease via targeted computer stimulation of dopamine neurons. While the BCI option seems optimal at first pass, the fact that it requires surgery to embed electronics and pass dozens of thin electrodes into our brains at various areas presents ethical roadblocks to research. Perhaps if someone could finagle a sweet big-money grant to cure stupidity via microchip-aided neural synchronization we would see some major progress in this area, but that’s not likely in the U.S.A. anytime soon. Maybe China? Maybe India? Hello, developing world, I hear opportunity calling…

However, the most likely (and potentially darkest) scenario for rapid intelligence increase within a single generation is the genetic one. With all the trendy biotech being thrown down these days it is only a matter of time until scientists find a common splice or knockout method for increasing the efficiency of learning and memory genes and/or neurotrophin supply at specific neural targets, leading to targeted neural growth and plasticity in mammalian neural networks, a technique that will then be applied to neurogenesis and plasticity along the intelligence and motor-skills circuits of animals in vitro in order to create super-functioning organisms. Over a period of decades these methods will of course be secretly tested in humans, resulting in a jump in IQ on the order of two – threefold in a single generation, no doubt spawning a race of Kahn-like supermen who will beat us at chess all the time, grow to loathe us, and ultimately plot to destroy us all. But that’s still a few years out, so go play some Halo 3 to get those hair-trigger reflexes up to snuff. When the black-market neural steroid hormones hit the milk supply we’ll have to hope we don’t all go insane, but at least SAT scores will be through the roof, for once.

James Kent is the former publisher of Psychedelic Illuminations and Trip Magazine. He currently edits DoseNation.com, a multi-user blog featuring drug news, humor, and commentary.



  1. Human natural evolution for all intents and purposes has stopped. Our next phase of evolution is through genetic manipulation and computer integration. Currently scientists are mapping the genetic differences that make a prodigy so. Photographic memory, complete recall word for word what they have read or seen once, speaking at the age of 1, writing thesis papers by the age of 10 years. These people are very real and their genes hold the key to our advancement. So what if we are all geniuses? Stupidity is a disease as well. The rate at which human evolution from that point would advance is unimaginable. Space travel, space colonization, matter conversion etc would ensure the continuation of our species well beyond its current course which is in a large part chance. If a large meteor were to hit us at this very moment we would be extinct. Our increased intelligence would also help us understand each other better and petty things like race, religion, cultural difference etc would be for history to archive. Language would no barrier to communication and who knows in our intelligence we may even invent a more advanced language that conveys meaning but in fewer words and sentences combining many different languages in the world.

    Integrating computer chips and devices in the human brain is possible when CPU’s or GPGPU’s are able to run extremely efficiently on very low voltage as is being seen with newer generation chips like arm and Ivybridge. There will be a point when they can run on electrical impulses generated by our brain at no additional heat expenditure due to their efficiency level. Humans of the future may look like us but may be very different. All will be born with desired traits tall, good looking with perfect features and adaptations to live in harsh environments like ability to breath underwater, super strength for high gravity environments (inhibiting myostatin gene), photosynthetic ability to obtain food when not available, sixth finger to play the piano (Gattaca). Stop the aging process, cure death. This is all possible if we become intelligent enough and not kill each other first. The way things are going currently we may just nuke everything and the survivors start from scratch all over again lol.

  2. The old adage is “Work smarter, not harder.”

    It wasn’t even twenty years ago when people used to spend the time remembering important phone numbers but now with cell phones common place, who bothers to remember phone numbers anymore?

    We’ve externalized memory pretty dang well.

    Likewise with the invention of the abacus then later on the calculator/computer, mathematica, etc. We’ve externalized math, by extension basic logic.

    Programmers (myself included) think and work hard so that later we’ll have to think and work less.

    The human mind bandwidth problem can likely be externalized a well.

    Heck, it might be possible to turn a human almost literally into a CPU. Harvesting our natural abilities of creative and critical thinking and putting them to the best possible and immediate use.

    Naturally though, the ethical and social concerns that come with that concept are utterly horrifying, not to mention horribly cliche after “The Matrix.”

Leave a Reply