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lead sponsor: the UK's Department of Children Schools and Families DCSF

charrette 2: cognitive science and enhanced cognition

We know a lot more than we did about what the popular press might descibe as "how to be smarter". Retail shops are packed with "IQ" supplements, TV celebrities extol the virtues of "smarter" nutrition choces, chemical cognitive enhancement - pills - have become commonplace on campuses while claimed advances in mumology make parenting-for-performance a staple in the "pop" science sections of Sunday magazines.

Treatments for Altzeimers suggest a way to reconnect neural parhways which in non-altzeimers subjects may offer yet another pathway toward enhanced cognitive performance. All this may be relatively trivial alongside the potential offered by gene therapies and the uncertain promise of man-machine implants/transplants.

Artificial cognitive enhancement brings with it the promise of smarter children, but also brings a huge numbers of issues about ethics, equity, inclusion, culture. Worryingly, the one dimensional nature of our current performance measures might be running directly towards the worst problems. For example, in sport the simpler the performance target, the greater is the problem with artificial interventions to enhance performance illegally: the 100m dash, putting the shot, long distance cycling - all have seen drug cheat issues that were rife. But where the performance is complex and multifaceted drugs and other enhancements are far less prevalent: ice dancing, sailing, synchronised diving. Maybe there are some clues here for learning.

If we wait until the problem is upon us we may just find that we are fighting a huge enhancement industry that parallels our education.

And of course at the same time a host of "nuture" interventions seem to offer significant gains through parenting, from the earliest of ages. Itis not clear how much of this science and wisdom reaches young mothers (and dads) in time for it to be effective. Perhaps this constitues another challenge for education...

The short version is that the science of our thinking and learning is dashing forwards probably a lot quicker than education is. That might matter.

Here is a clear area where we need to assess the problem and, if it really is significant, act now before the problem is acknowledged more widely.


event date: 18 - 19 march 08
location: tower bridge, london

chair: prof stephen heppell
rapporteur: bill lucas
media: illumina (sabrina organo producer, scott munroe, stephen crawley)

a brain


nick bostrom: university of oxford
stephen emmott: microsoft research
tom heaton: eidos - brain benders
maarjte schermer: erasmus medical center
derek robertson: teaching and learning scotland
eugene sadler-smith: university of surrey
bill lucas: rapporteur

stephen heppell: heppell.net
lys johnson: heppell.net

dominic flitcroft: dcsf
bill gibbon: futurelab
doug brown: becta

horizonTAL - horizon scanning for learning from heppell.net

last updated: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 10:22 AM