Posts Tagged 'human enhanced intelligence'

Once again Radio 4 Extra has been keeping the faith, for want of a more secular term, as far as Sci-Fi is concerned. Time and again, the station has brought innovative drama to our ears and, as with this latest post, triggered off wider thought processes.

This time around it’s the serialisation of Ted Chaing’s ‘Understand’ (1991) that’s turned audio concepts into a memory palace of associated pieces. It’s a tale of a comatosed individual who’s intelligence is subsequently boosted way beyond human capacity as a result of biochemical intervention. While Chaing skillfully handles his personal approach to the topic, it’s one that’s been tackled numerous times before.

Daniel Keyes 1958 short story, that went onto become a full novel by 1966, is a standout example of the concept. While Flowers for Algenon, and it’s story of a mentally sub-normal individual brought up and beyond the level of genius, forms part of a wider heritage of intellectual bootstrapping, it does so through the use of medical experimentation. Other tales, like A.E. Van Vogt’s 1946 ‘Slan’ and John Wyndham’s ‘The Crysalids’ (1955) envisaged the alteration as a result of evolution, or irradiation.

Thomas M Disch’s novel Camp Concentration (1968) politicised drug-based intelligence boosting by setting the experiments inside a concentration camp for dissidents. As with Flowers for Algenon, the progression to a higher level of self awareness, comes at a price – a cost made all the more poignant with an expansion of inner, conceptual spaces within the confines of a totalitarian regime.

More recently, we’ve seen the adaptation of Alan Glyn’s 2001 book The Dark Fields into the film Limitless (2011). Again the topic is one of an individual made hyper intelligent through the use of a drug, but told as a realistic techno drama, as opposed to scientific or state controlled experiment. It’s also a sly exposé of the shadowy practices of modern pharmaceutical companies which, once again, shows how the subject matter has the capacity to sustain itself. So much so, that a TV series was launched in 2015. It stretched the concept to 22 episodes in total before being cancelled before a second series. Finally, bringing us almost up to date, is Luc Besson’s 2014 film Lucy in which Scarlett Johansson develops drug-fueled supernatural powers, stretching the concept of mental enhancement to the point of incredulity.

So, are we any closer then to a chemical improvement of our minds? Elon Musk’s latest project, the Neuralink, is pure transhumanism – a process by which we internalise our interfaces with technology. Plus there are a plethora of other theorists arguing that man/machine interfaces are the only way we’ll survive as a species.

As for purely drug-based enhancements… News just in! Nootropics have just become a hot topic, once again narrowing the margins between a Sci-Fi trope and another prospective future.

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