Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mind Enhancing Drugs and Software

Two interesting articles in a similar field from wired.com this time.

First up and the less likely to be controversial of the two is "Want to Remember Everything You'll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm", it's a fascinating read, so if you've got some spare time have a look at it.
The article covers supermeamo a memory enhancement software package and it's creator. A software package that utilises research on optimal memorisation strategies to provide a system that can boost your ability to memorise material. The system apparently works by determining the optimal periods at which to refresh the material you want to memorise. It then sticks up a reminder with the info at the point were you should be just starting forget the information. Seeing apparently if the optimal time is targeted regularly the average time between needing a reminder increases and the quicker it gets committed to "longterm" memory. If it works, it sounds like a rather useful system for extending/increasing your ability to memorise material in an optimal manner. The second part of the article looks at the creator of the algorithms used, a man who's so convinced about the software that he allows it to run his life, choosing what he wants prioritised and then letting the software, take what he wants to read and learn and sticking it into this system.
The writer makes some interesting comments that the future of computer boosted IQ for humans, may not be using the computer to store the information for you but instead using them to optimise the manner in which you learn it. The software is available commercial for windows and is apparently considered brilliant for learning languages, free alternatives that use slightly different algorithms are available for both windows and Linux.

Secondly we move on to an article on Brain-Enhancing Drug Regimens where people are using mind enhancing drugs, originally designed to help with sleeping "disorders", ADHD and other disorders to boost their mental performance for work, tests and assignments. The article provides a brief overview and then dives into examples of drug regimens used by readers of the magazine in their daily life. The Drugs act to promote alertness, and boost the users focus, ability to ignore distractions and rate of memorisation. What is also interesting is that the US department of defense is funding research into such drugs for a variety of uses by military personnel.


Together both articles are rather interesting look at the field of human mental self experimentation, as people try to boost there mental rather than physical capabilities with various strategies and drugs. I suspect such things will increase as we move further and further into an information saturated society. One where we are permanently connected to various information sources and our friends and colleagues, and have to deal with the associated information overload. Seeing we've done pretty well so far considering we're a group of evolved hunter gather scavengers, who are an increasingly long way away from the plains and deserts that we spent millions of years wondering and that our minds and bodies were "optimised" (yeah, yeah I know Evolution and optimisation don't go together but give me a break, you know what I mean) for.

Give Your Intellect a Boost — Just Say Yes to Doing the Right Drugs!
Now if you've read the second article have a look at this quick page, which lists a varity of the drugs, their effects, side effects and possible modes of action.

Any way what do you people think, would you be interested or consider utilising either system? Or do you consider such systems to either not work or to be actively dangerous to ones health?

4 comments:

Kelly said...

Hrrrrrmmm....
I've only read the drugs articles so far (I'll come back to the first one later, it sounds more like something I'd consider using).

My first reaction is, well, hrrrrrmmm. But then, I drug myself up on caffeine and St John's Wort... using prescription drugs worries me because
(a) side effects, complications, dependency, etc etc?
(b) what the world might look like if their use became too widespread - would people who didn't pop pills be effectively penalised for working less efficiently, even though they're just trying to do things the good old fashioned way?
(c) related to (b) and what you wrote about the environment/tasks we evolved for: how insane would that world get? It's pretty insane already, I'm not sure I like the idea of an educational system/economy/workplace where large numbers of people are popping pills to become super-human. Would we still have time/sanity to stop and smell the flowers? Play with your kids? ???

EONsim said...

Yeah the side effects etc are rather worrying and certainly something that would discourage me from doing something similar.

With regards to how insane the world would get, it would be interesting based on how common and how often such things were used. I suspect any sustained high level of usage would simply cause rapid burn out of the people involved, mental breakdowns, depression etc.
In controlled circumstances though I think they could be well worth it especially if later generations of these sorts of drugs manage to reduce or eliminate the side effects (maybe by directly and more specifically increasing or decreasing levels of neruotransmitters). Lots of the SciFi I read deals with such things and some of the possibilities they suggest would be well worth the cost if it was minimal.
Boosted reflexes, wakefulness, memory recall and concentration could be potentially lifesaving when used on a controlled manner in specific circumstances.

Kelly said...

...As of yesterday, the Wired articles on drugs are on the public noticeboard outside the 6th floor seminar room in the CHMEDS Department of Public Health and General Practice. The 5th year medical students think we rock.

EONsim said...

heh Cool.