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Smart humans

Smart humans

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As the relationship between humans and machines moves ever closer, technology is beginning to have far-reaching effects on the chemistry of the brain. What happens when you make humans smarter with superior hardware, software and sensors? Judging by the Cybermen in the TV series 'Doctor Who', it causes lack of empathy and a penchant for world-domination. On the other hand, 'The Six Million Dollar Man' (a 1970s TV staple) was a sort of superhero who used his bionic enhancements to fight the baddies. Surgically attaching electronic circuits to living tissue remains tricky, but you could argue, as philosopher Andy Clark does in 'Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action and Cognitive Extension', that our deepening relationship with smartphones and other personal computing devices makes semi-cyborgs of us all. We can navigate by satellite, broadcast to our friends like practical telepathy, and access any information at the touch of a button to make perfect decisions based on the best data. If only we weren't so busy posting updates on Facebook and playing Angry Birds... Scientists armed with brain scanners are publishing initial evidence of what these external 'brain prostheses' are doing to our internal circuitry. Our brains change all the time, whether we are having a conversation or reading a book; the interesting question is whether they are changing in a different and meaningful new way. Internet addiction disorder (IAD), for instance, is now a serious mental health problem - certainly in China. Sufferers are unable to control their use of the Internet, leading to distress and functional impairments of general life such as academic performance, social interaction, occupational interest and behavioral problems.

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