Mental augmentation for animals is no longer a science fiction fantasy plot, but a scientific reality. Researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Centre, University of Kentucky, and University of Southern California were able to increase the intellectual proficiency of monkeys. George Dvorsky writes about these groundbreaking findings in his article, "Should we upgrade the intelligence of animals?"
The scientists took five rhesus monkeys and trained them in identifying certain images within a delayed match-to-sample game. After two years, the monkeys attained an average of a 75% proficiency rate. After having mapped out the areas of the brain that lit up when the monkeys correctly identified the images, they then administered cocaine (you just can’t make this stuff up) to hinder their decision-making.
To the scientists' amazement, when they turned on the implanted neural devices within the monkeys’ brains, they found that they were able to reverse the effects of the cocaine. But what’s even more incredible is they discovered, under sober conditions, that the neural device allowed the monkeys to exceed the average proficiency rate, signifying an actual intelligence increase!
Now the question arises as to whether or not we should be toying with nature’s creations in this manner. Futurist David Brin proclaims a high-hearted yes, describing some of the potentials and possibilities of uplifting the intelligence of animals. However, he also asserts that there will definitely be significant criticism aimed at these kinds of studies.
Brin states that, "the Right will attack the arrogance of usurping God's power," while "the Left will scream over the insult, proclaiming that dolphins [and other animals] already are smart enough, have their own culture and dignity, and do not need Homo sapiens thrusting our notions of ‘intelligence' upon others," but doesn’t buy into either view, purporting that it may be selfish of us to deny these kinds of enhancements to higher functioning animals. It may very well give us the opportunity to step out of our species-ist viewpoint to incorporate the perspectives of other beings that inhabit this planet.
Despite the prospective outlook, bioethical concerns have been raised in fear of creating Frankenstein-like monsters; scientists must take caution to treat animal experimentation with the utmost respect for their subjects, as not to traumatize these creatures. It may even be a bad idea altogether; how do we know animals would even want these kinds of intelligence uplifting capabilities? They may very well be happier not having intellectual capacities that resemble our human condition’s double-edged sword of having bitten into the forbidden fruit. As we all know, self-awareness can be a bitch.
With all that in mind, Brin leaves us dreaming of a possible future in which our craziest fantasies become reality: "Imagine dolphin philosophers, bonobo therapists, raven playwrights and poets; how lonely if we turn away without trying."
Image by kalidoskopika, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.