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The Time For Universal Brain Development Is Now

Like it or not, some people are smarter than others. And pretty soon, robots will be smarter than all of us. We can ignore all of that, or start using brain sciences to level the playing field.

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Laurent Alexandre

-Analysis-

PARIS — To compete with Artificial Intelligence (AI), humans will need to get smarter. And to do that, we'll have no choice but to use nano and biotechnologies, information technology (IT) and cognitive sciences to radically hike our brain capacities. We'll either be able to increase our intelligence through pre-birth interventions or by acting directly on the cognitive machine that is the brain. Schools will thus become trans-humanist, meaning they'll seeking to boost human capabilities. And the idea of modifying students' brains will become normal.

Faced with this civilizational change, the state must become an intelligence manager and assure the harmonious cohabitation of silicon and biological brains. My contention is this: that intelligence will become the key to all powers, and politics itself will focus on intelligence management. Those are among the ideas for democratizing intelligence that I put forth in my book La Guerre des intelligences (War of Intelligences).

Recently, both Édouard Tétreau writing in Le Figaro and Laetitia Strauch-Bonart in the weekly Le Point have made humanist and religious counter-arguments. Like many elite intellectuals, they favor keeping intellectual inequalities. They claim that intelligence is not crucial and that our humanity is not reduced to just cognitive capabilities. But behind this veneer of humanism and benevolence lurks a kind of class selfishness.

The idea of modifying students' brains will become normal.

Elites are currently living the most exciting time in human history. For innovators and intellectuals, this is a golden age. The problem is that the party is reserved for just a small minority — people with high IQ levels. Those with inferior intellectual abilities are sidelined.

Elites launched the knowledge and big data society and the industrialization of AI, without worrying about democratizing biological intelligence. They haven't given any thought yet to the future of less gifted people. What's more, they have made intelligence measurement a taboo, even though IQ inequalities are a huge and growing contributor to social and economic inequalities.

One extra IQ point has an increasing impact on success in the broader sense. In a knowledge society, gaps in cognitive abilities entail explosive differences in earnings, ability to understand the world, influence and in social status. The IQ taboo, in that sense, becomes a weapon wielded by the "hyperclass' to maintain its power. This taboo expresses the hidden desire of the intellectual elites to protect their monopoly on intelligence — what sets them apart from the masses. Simply put, the elites panic at the idea that brain technologies could soon destroy their intellectual superiority.

Neurons — Photo: GerryShaw

Which is why we need to act urgently and persuade them to become less selfish. The scientist Sergey Brin confessed at the Davos summit in 2017 that AI is advancing much faster than all previous forecasts. And as AI industrialization moves ahead, it will turn social and political organization on its head. "Neuro-conservatives' like Tétreau and Strauch-Bonarte don't realize that their discourse is slowing down political mobilization; it's preventing us from regulating the "war of intelligences."

The discrepancy between IT industrialization, currently moving at an astounding rate, and the democratization of biological intelligence that has not even begun, has become a threat to democracy. As such, re-founding education and training is a matter of absolute political urgency. We need to rebalance investments and invest in teaching research at least as much as the U.S. digital giants (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) and their Chinese counterparts (Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent and Xiaomi) invest in educating silicon brains.

We don't need a universal income; we need universal brain development.

Intellectual elites have let entire sections of the population become marginalized. Given how little time there is to save those left behind by the digital bus, we need to start by acknowledging IQ disparities. This isn't to stigmatize, but to pilot our brains upwards and fight inequalities. Sitting by would be like supervising a diabetic without measuring their blood glucose levels.

What is needed is the right to high-quality, lifelong training, not payments for people left stranded by technological advances. We don't need a universal income; we need universal brain development. In the 21st century, only cognitive improvements, not taxation, will reduce socio-economic gaps, so expect the big solutions to come from a neurobiologist, not an economist like Thomas Piketty.

If schools do not democratize biological intelligence fast by using the full potential of brain sciences, we should expect some kind of intellectual apartheid, for starters, followed by a big crisis. And the neuro-conservatives who refuse, in the name of humanist kindness, to use those sciences to reduce intellectual differences are just leading us toward that critical situation.

It's also true, of course, that the brain revolution, if it does take place, will sweep such intellectual elites away. Just as France's bourgeois revolution, in 1789, eliminated noble privileges, the neuro-revolution will mark the end of privilege based on intelligence.

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Forest Networks? Revisiting The Science Of Trees And Funghi "Reaching Out"

A compelling story about how forest fungal networks communicate has garnered much public interest. Is any of it true?

Thomas Brail films the roots of a cut tree with his smartphone.

Arborist and conservationist Thomas Brail at a clearcutting near his hometown of Mazamet in the Tarn, France.

Melanie Jones, Jason Hoeksema, & Justine Karst

Over the past few years, a fascinating narrative about forests and fungi has captured the public imagination. It holds that the roots of neighboring trees can be connected by fungal filaments, forming massive underground networks that can span entire forests — a so-called wood-wide web. Through this web, the story goes, trees share carbon, water, and other nutrients, and even send chemical warnings of dangers such as insect attacks. The narrative — recounted in books, podcasts, TV series, documentaries, and news articles — has prompted some experts to rethink not only forest management but the relationships between self-interest and altruism in human society.

But is any of it true?

The three of us have studied forest fungi for our whole careers, and even we were surprised by some of the more extraordinary claims surfacing in the media about the wood-wide web. Thinking we had missed something, we thoroughly reviewed 26 field studies, including several of our own, that looked at the role fungal networks play in resource transfer in forests. What we found shows how easily confirmation bias, unchecked claims, and credulous news reporting can, over time, distort research findings beyond recognition. It should serve as a cautionary tale for scientists and journalists alike.

First, let’s be clear: Fungi do grow inside and on tree roots, forming a symbiosis called a mycorrhiza, or fungus-root. Mycorrhizae are essential for the normal growth of trees. Among other things, the fungi can take up from the soil, and transfer to the tree, nutrients that roots could not otherwise access. In return, fungi receive from the roots sugars they need to grow.

As fungal filaments spread out through forest soil, they will often, at least temporarily, physically connect the roots of two neighboring trees. The resulting system of interconnected tree roots is called a common mycorrhizal network, or CMN.

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