The Web-based Brain: Redefining Intelligence

May 30, 2013

pg 226 Our Brain

“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” – Plato

How do we choose to measure intelligence, and what kind of intelligence do we value in society today?

On the Science page of the Huffington Post, the recent article, People Getting Dumber? Human Intelligence Has Declined Since Victorian Era, Research Suggests, stated, “Our technology may be getting smarter, but a provocative new study suggests human intelligence is on the decline. In fact, it indicates that Westerners have lost 14 I.Q. points on average since the Victorian Era.” Hmmm.

We currently measure intelligence with the understanding that each successive generation’s IQ will be smarter than the last, (The Flynn Effect.) It should stand to reason then, that each successive generation’s average IQ test scores would be higher. So why are our test scores lower?

There are two different types of intelligence which psychologists believe to be separate neural systems; Crystallized Inteligence, Gc. which is our ability to use skills, knowledge and experience we build over time as we memorize information, and Fluid Intelligence. Gf, which is the ability to analytically solve complex problems using logic, independent of acquired knowledge,

Recent scientific studies show that individuals trained on a video game could improve short-term memory skills, or working memory, i.e. the kind of memory you use to hold information and manipulate facts. If you improve your working memory– your Fluid Memory– from these computer games, the ability to solve complex problems increases, and it can be argued that we are actually increasing intelligence. Neurobiologists know that the brain has plasticity, and when stimulated, more “branching” appears at the “cortical” level, connecting different regions of the brain to one another; we make more fluid associations. Perhaps what looks to us now like stupidity, or a general dumbing-down may actually turn out to be a different sort of intelligence.

Dr. Gary Small, the Director of UCLA Longevity Center, proposes that we are at a major milestone in brain evolution, and clearly we are redefining intelligence. He states that it is important that we acknowledge the results of how we are searching and gathering information on the worldwide web. He says,” …what we may see with all the new technology is sort of a super brain which is evolving right now….”

Daniel Weinberger author of “Too Big to Know” says, “…we may be seeing the emergence of a type of Web-Form thinking, that is far looser, driven more by interest, less focused and reduced, and is more collaborative…”

Are current IQ tests a good measure of intelligence?
In December 2012, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article for, “Are You Smarter Than Your Grandfather? Probably Not.” He explained the theroy proposed in political scientist James Flynn’s book ” Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century.

Gladwell explains, “Ultimately, Flynn concludes that human beings are not smarter—just more modern.” He begins with Flynn’s investigation into the character of the standard intelligence measuring tests. He explains,” the Flynn effect puts the average IQs of the school children of 1900 at around 70, which is to suggest, bizarrely, that a century ago the United States was populated largely by people who today would be considered mentally retarded.” Harsh.

Flynn explores the nature of the tests, and explains that the IQ tests today want you to “classify,” thus children today “…picked up the habit of classification and use the vocabulary of science. They classify the world as a prerequisite to understanding it.”

Standard IQ tests have various subtests, such as “similarities” which ask children to find commonalities, or relationships. These showed significant gains, while the subtests that test arithmetical reasoning, had significantly smaller gains. Gladwell explains,”…In 1910, schools were focused on kids memorizing things about the real world. Today, they are entirely about relationships.”

The extreme intelligence of Autism
It turns out that the fastest growing trend in global IT companies is the hiring of autistic software developers. It is a proven fact that highly functioning people on the autistic spectrum display an extraordinarily high talent for both math and science.

The title of a recent cover story in the May 22 issue of Handelsblatt, Germany’s economic and financial newspaper, “Looking for Autism” caught my eye. The sub-headline was basically a disclaimer, stating that, lest you think that SAP (SAP AG, a large German, multinational software corporation which manufactures Enterprise Software – has discovered its social conscience, in fact its plan to hire 650 Autistic workers by 2020 is actually fueled by the desire to take advantage of their special programming talents. Very Interesting.

In the highly competitive race for creative innovation in software development, most IT corporations have recognized that some of the most startling advances in IT technology are created in collaborations. But what many may not realize is that IT corporations such as SAP have discovered that development teams with one or more Autistic team members had the highest rate of team member satisfaction, and out-performed other teams by a large extent in terms of the rapid advancement in technology and innovation. Bringing together such diverse talents frees each team member to express and use their individual strengths to their full potentials, as the autistic members could most effectively and rapidly handle the intricacies of testing the software codes and other time consuming repetitive tasks, by rapidly finding mistakes.

IT companies have begun collaborating with social institutions such as Specialistern, based in Denmark (which now has branches in the U.S, Poland, Switzerland and Germany), Left is Right, in Sweden and Auticon in Germany. Specialistern describes itself as, “… a socially innovative company where the majority of employees have a diagnosis on the Autism spectrum.” Based on the particular skills of those Autistic individuals, Specialisterne, Left is Right, and Auticon, work directly with corporations to help autistic people find work with IT companies, who are willing to work with them in order to increase their competitive advantage.

In explaining this unusual partnership, Luisa Deplazes Delgado, the chief human resources officer at SAP says that both Specialistern and SAP believe that, “…innovation comes from the edges,” and, “…Only by employing people who think differently and spark innovation will SAP be prepared to handle the challenges of the 21st century.”

Interestingly enough, while training Autistic children how to use the computer, human resources trainers at SAP reported that they had a noticeably higher success rate using the Apple iPad, because of its simple user-friendly interface.
One could say that we have embraced our destiny by creating and participating in the global change brought about by the construct of the Internet, and the endless free-flow and exchange of information it offers. If we have developed and are continuing to evolve a Web-based form of thinking, we are in effect increasing our brain plasticity, or Fluid thinking. We are right on schedule, and as James Flynn would contend, we are “becoming modern.”

Why not begin to consider that we are in fact creating new societies, which could be said to function on a higher, and more effective level as proven by the SAP team models?

We might just find out that if we respect and embrace our innate differences, and create school models and working situations which are intuitively “fluid” we actually allow the strengths of each individual to reach their full potential, because….they are doing what they really want to do.

Read more:

A web cast on the Science page of the Huffington Post called Reverse Intelligence. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, it is worth a watch.

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design / E:

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Filed under Education, Human Interest, Language, technology

2 responses to “The Web-based Brain: Redefining Intelligence

  1. engineeredimmortality

    True story: I once went to a science museum that had a reaction time test one could take. It marked your score on a big piece of paper in order to display the normal distribution. I was within the top 2 dots out of unknown thousands, so as somebody who is apparently smarter than almost everybody, I will agree that – hell, yeah – people are as dumb as rocks nowadays. 😉

    That, of course, was before the internet was a household word, so we had to turn to fluoridated water for an excuse. This one is much more hopeful.

    • I wouldn’t sell yourself short. But I too remember the old fluoridated water excuse! And although I watch people every day walking, talking, and texting simultaneously, I have decided to hope for the best in terms of the evolutionary possibilities. 🙂

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