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.

Plugged in
Plugged in
Laurent Alexandre


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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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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