The 20th century saw a measurable and significant increase in the average human intellect, as measured by IQ.4 While systemic efforts like education played a role, about 50 per cent of this rise was due to epigenetic modifications like improved nutrition, better medicine and reduced stress exposure.5 Further enhancement of cognition is a major project for the 21st century, to be realised by more of the same, plus drugs and machine interfaces. It is possible, however, that such enhancements in cognitive function may not suffice to help us meet the challenges of the 21st century — we may need to take a broader approach to augmenting our consciousness.
Much of human cognitive capacity is shaped by culture, including exposure to tools like mathematics and language, which underpin the ability to grasp abstract concepts and create complex models of the world. Boosting cognitive capacity further will require further enrichment of the cultural environment. Virtual environments have already been shown to boost empathy6 and memory retention7 in the classroom. Neuroscience can deliver better insights into how human brains learn. Next-generation artificial intelligence algorithms, designed to mimic the more probabilistic and error-tolerant computations done by human brain networks, will be hybridised with human intelligence to boost the human capacity for learning further.