TLDR

Q: What new cause area should Open Philanthropy consider funding?
A: Mind Enhancement

Disclaimer

This is a preliminary cause profile written over the course of just two days to be submitted in time for the cause exploration price, adapted from my preliminary EA forum post about the subject. Its aim is to explore the field and possible involvement opportunities further in an 80/20 manner rather than making a definitive or comprehensive case. Please forgive its unpolished nature. A more thorough and polished profile on the topic in collaboration with Anders Sandberg (FHI) is coming up.

Thanks to Anders Sandberg, Jan Brauner, Inga Grossman, Samuel Tillian, Isaak Freeman, Andrés Gómez Emilsson, Milan Cvitkovic, Quentin Frerichs, Tanya Kuzmich (among many others)  for being an invaluable help in writing this post!

EDIT: This post did not end up winning the prize, however after reaching out to OpenPhil, I was told that this has nothing to do with EV of the cause area but only reflects the quality of the investigation. (This implies this post not winning is no surprise and should not be a reason to update regarding the possible importance of the cause) Please reach out to me if you believe that you do have arguments that should lead me to update on the EV of this cause area.

Long TLDR

EA Involvement with Mind Enhancement seems to be incredibly important in that differential mind enhancement could mean up to several percent of counterfactual  potential x-risk reduction over the next few decades. 80.000 hours would consider such a reduction equivalent to curing cancer or eliminating extreme poverty.

It seems to be tractable in the sense that we already have empirical evidence of mind enhancement with effect sizes sufficient to potentially lead to large reductions in existential risk (rough estimates being at 0.1-1%) and no theoretical reasons why larger mind enhancement effect sizes should not be possible.

Additionally, it seems to be neglected by a factor of roughly ~x1000 relative to e.g. aging research in terms of effort going into direct mind enhancement research, i.e. research to develop mind enhancement interventions for use in healthy humans. 

On the other hand, due to billions of $ flowing into research for diseases relevant to mind enhancement such as ADHD or Alzheimer's there is a large number of almost deployable mind enhancement interventions.

This leads to a large deployment overhang of mind enhancement interventions that have large potential but are not yet ready for healthy use due to insufficient evidence of safety and effects in healthy humans.

For the above reasons, a number of strategies for getting involved with mind enhancement research are scalable opportunities for millions of $ of cost-effective funding to do good and improve the (long-term) future.

These include short-, medium- and long-term efforts :

Short-Term (6 months to 2 years):

  • EA field building efforts for differential mind enhancement
  • an EA mind enhancement service

Medium-Term Development (2-10 years):

  • development and deployment of new (pharmaceutical) deployable mind enhancement interventions based on current almost deployable mind enhancement interventions

Medium to Long-Term Development (over 10 years):

  • R&D into experimental mind enhancement interventions
  • Policy: advocacy for drug policy reform & changing incentive structures around mind enhancement research

Quick Introduction

What is Mind Enhancement?

Mind enhancement is a general umbrella term for any improvement of functions, processes, and qualities related to the mind. (including reasoning, cognition, thought, language, morality, spirituality, emotions, etc.) Any intervention that achieves this is a mind enhancement intervention, or MEI.
 

Differential mind enhancement is a particular strategy of EA mind enhancement involvement (including deployment, R&D, and policy advocacy) that aims to most effectively do good while minimizing downside risk. This will be explained in more depth in the second part of this post ‘Possible Strategies of (EA) Mind Enhancement Involvement’.
 

Context-dependent mind enhancement is a mind enhancement deployment approach characterized by individualized guidance on performing MEI by psychological and medical professionals taking individual mental health, health & well-being, and biological shackles into account before targeting enhancement beyond an individual's baseline.

Topology of Mind Enhancement Interventions

These MEI may be grouped by their means, deployment stage, and effects:

Means

The means of achieving an enhancement include: behavioral (e.g. meditation, language, formal education) , pharmacological (e.g. stimulants, psychedelics), neurotechnological (e.g. brain computer interfaces, neuromodulation) & genetic enhancement (e.g. iterated embryo selection)

Deployment Stage

Deployment stage describes the extent to which a MEI is deployable or already being deployed. In this post I roughly categorize MEIs’ deployment stages into the following:

  • experimental / theoretical MEIs (eMEI) are promising but not ready for deployment yet due to practical or fundamental technological problems - for example invasive brain implants such as Neuralink or genetic enhancement through iterated embryo selection (see section on long-term development)
  • almost deployable MEIs (adMEIs) are promising but lack sufficient evidence to be responsibly deployed on wider scales - examples would be promising psychopharmaceuticals that have not been explicitly investigated for mind enhancement purposes (see section on medium-term deployment & development)
  • deployable MEIs (dMEIs) are currently being used to some extent that have the potential (i.e. sufficient evidence of effects/safety) to be responsibly deployed on wider scales - examples would be modafinil or methylphenidate (see section on short-term involvement)
  • classical / traditional / main-stream MEIs (cMEIs) are already being widely used by billions of people - for example caffeine

Effects

Enhancement effects are broad and can include capabilities such as improved cognition, concentration, intelligence, working memory, memory, emotional intelligence, empathy, eloquence, etc.

Furthermore, we can also consider final mind enhancement interventions that raise hedonic set-point or improve qualia. These are arguably intrinsically desirable in the sense that they do not only instrumentally affect our efforts of reducing existential risk but also directly raise QALY. 

Benevolence, Intelligence, Power

In the context of EA, it makes sense to think about mind enhancement effects in terms of improving an agent’s Benevolence, Intelligence & Power (inspired by Rethink Priorities’ Framework, see their post for more on this)

Benevolence is the extent to which an actor seeks to improve the long-term future of humanity, intelligence is their ability to plan the most effective and sustainable way of doing this and power is what they need to put the plan into practice successfully.

In this context, enhancement of IQ or rationality can be classified as Intelligence Enhancement, social skills, drive, & energy could be grouped in with Power Enhancement and broad moral circle, impartial empathy and better scope sensitivity could be considered Benevolence Enhancement.

Context-dependent mind enhancement

The human mind is insanely complex and it is hard to make general statements about it that have practical relevance. It is very unlikely that there is one MEI that would have positive effects for everyone in every context.

Thus, I want to argue for a context-dependent approach to mind enhancement taking the individual into account. I find it likely that depending on context, different kinds of MEIs that work on different levels will be effective and ineffective:

  • alleviating mental health problems and increasing health & well-being
  • lifting biological shackles
  • enhancement beyond baseline & raising peak performance

It is widely known that the most effective and fundamental MEI are good diet, good sleep and regular exercise. This is because a lack of them usually causes poor health & well-being. Beyond that, mental health problems due to depression or childhood trauma often will not be alleviated by life-style interventions and require professional psychological/psychiatric help. 

Once individual baseline has been reached through good mental health, health and well-being, some people’s baseline vitality, energy, performance and mood may still be lower than that of others due to e.g. low hormonal levels. These ‘biological shackles’ will usually not be a target for intervention in the standard medical system yet may drastically improve individual baseline performance. 

Beyond that, certain MEI may enhance performance above individual baseline for short periods of peak performance or even sustainably across prolonged periods of time. For example, this is the reason why people with high baseline still often drink coffee to achieve heightened performance beyond baseline.

I find it likely that through a combined approach on all of these levels, individual vitality, energy, performance and mood (and thus Intelligence, Power) can on average be enhanced by a significant amount, a rough estimate being 20-30%. It is possible that enhancement effects would be lower for individuals that are already naturally performing better or far better than average. I still find it likely that such individuals could benefit by up to 10-20% through context-dependent mind enhancement.

These effect sizes are my best-guess conservative estimates taking into account my understanding of current literature, conversations with medical doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists and experiences and anecdotes from the nootropics and rationalist communities.

Ways of involvement

Generally I see three general ways of involvement with this cause area that I will go into more detail about later:

Short-term:

  • deployment of known MEI (e.g. EA mind enhancement clinic / guide / coaching)

Long-term:

  • R&D into experimental & novel MEI (e.g. FROs focusing on neurotech, genetic enhancement, etc.)
  • policy advocacy regarding regulation of MEI  (e.g. advocacy to start considering mind enhancement as a medical indication, advocacy for more rational drug policy)

Aim of this post

This post aims to argue for the following: 

  • the cause area of mind enhancement is important and pressing enough to warrant further exploration
  • some ways of involvement are ready to deploy now and could both be cost-effective and potentially necessary for our efforts of doing good and success in x-risk reduction
  • preliminary funding in this field would yield important information about the cost-effectiveness of further funding of potentially pressing, longer-term, scalable ways of involvement (wide-scale deployment, R&D, policy)

To achieve this, it will 

  • provide an overview of the most important considerations regarding importance of mind enhancement and potential downside risks (adapted from my preliminary EA forum post about the subject)
  • provide an overview of systematic and theoretical reasons why various forms of mind enhancement are both tractable and historically neglected and why this could mean that there are a lot of missed low-hanging fruit in this area
  • sketch out fundable projects for short-term field building & deployment of MEIs and further evaluation of this cause area
  • give an impression of potential ways to create incentive structures to ensure longer-term development of the cause area in a way that can be expected to sustainably and robustly improve the long-term future of humanity

 

Overview of importance and potential downside risks

Importance of mind enhancement

There are a lot of arguments to be made for the importance of mind enhancement so that I classify them into three general types:
 

  • intrinsic importance of certain types of mind enhancement - e.g. raising hedonic set-point
  • instrumental importance of mind enhancement in boosting our efforts to do good - e.g. boosting work on improving the future
  • other considerations of importance - e.g. pure economic upside

Intrinsic Importance

Depending on our views and theories of moral value, you can argue that certain forms of mind enhancement are intrinsically desirable in that they might achieve raising quality of life or hedonic set-point, allow experiences of extreme bliss or alleviate extreme suffering. This might be of huge moral importance to people who think that increasing good experiences or reducing bad experiences is inherently valuable. I am assuming that this is to a large extent true for the majority of individual EAs. It is certainly implicit in most EA estimations regarding the importance/impact of cause areas, organizations and career paths. For instance, 80.000 hours promotes ‘expected wellbeing’ as the fundamental yard-stick of positive impact, OpenPhilantropy values ‘subjective wellbeing’ and ‘welfare gained’ among other things.


 

From this perspective, it could arguably be very important to look into deployment and R&D for certain sub-areas of mind enhancement such as quality of life enhancement, hedonic set-point enhancement and suffering reduction. 

Scale, Neglectedness and Tractability

It goes beyond the scope of this post to conduct an in-depth investigation of this sub-area of mind enhancement. However, there is already some work on the topic from EA and EA-adjacent sources:


 

In their EA forum post Genetic Enhancement as a Cause Area, user ‘Galton’ argues for genetic mind enhancement being one potential way of enhancing well-being, noting that ‘traits that contribute to a happy, successful life are highly heritable, including psychological traits‘. For instance, they note that well-being is determined to a large extent by genetics.


 

In the post Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain: Rating, Ranking, and Comparing Peak Experiences Suggest the Existence of Long Tails for Bliss and Suffering, Andrés Gómez Emilsson from Qualia Research Institute argues that current linear models of pleasure and pain implicit in many impact calculations might be underestimating the goodness of extremely positive and the badness of extremely negative experiences. He also argued for the theoretical tractability of ‘Wireheading Done Right’.


 

Another post on the EA forum, The case to abolish the biology of suffering as a longtermist action argues that extreme suffering reduction could be very important for reducing existential risk. They note that extreme suffering can be one of the causes behind the psychology of malevolent actors who want to see the world burn.


 

One noteworthy thought is that knowledge of technologies that allow modulating subjective experience itself might pose a significant information hazard and potentially even an s-risk (risk of scenarios worse than extinction) due to these technologies’ potential applications in artificially causing extreme suffering.

Overlap with instrumental importance of mind enhancement

Many forms of quality-of-life enhancement and adjacent intrinsically desirable MEIs will have great instrumental relevance for our efforts to do good. On one hand, human performance is arguably strongly a function of motivation, well-being and happiness. Developing and deploying MEIs that affect these could therefore also have great instrumental importance for doing good by improving the world and the future and reducing existential risk, besides their intrinsic importance. (see following section for a broader discussion of the instrumental importance of mind enhancement generally)


 

On the other hand, it is plausible that wide availability and deployment of some MEIs related to quality of life and ultimate bliss could have negative effects on our efforts to do good in a variety of ways. For instance, some MEIs allowing for ultimate bliss might make users unwilling to do anything other than enjoy the experience and thus cause them to stop working to improve the future.

Summary

Mind enhancement that aims to raise quality of life, allows for ultimate bliss or alleviates extreme suffering is arguably very important for doing good more effectively - both intrinsically and instrumentally. This is because it 1) aims to modulate the very essence of good, positive subjective experience, and 2) due to the implications of that boosting our other efforts of doing good. Furthermore the field could have great implications for both potentially reducing certain types of existential risk factors (e.g. malevolent actors) and enabling certain types of s-risk (e.g. artificially causing extreme suffering on wide scales).


 

Further systematic investigation of the importance, neglectedness and tractability of this sub-field of mind enhancement - taking implications for the long-term-future (potentially boosting x-risk reduction efforts, enabling s-risk) into account - could prove very valuable. 

Instrumental Importance

Boosting Intelligence and Power

Necessity & Generalist Resilience

To my knowledge, we do not have a strong reason to believe with confidence that current levels of human intelligence and current human mental capabilities generally are sufficient for solving existential risk and ensuring a good future. Therefore, it could be necessary for humans to perform MEIs to raise the likelihood of not going extinct due to AGI or similar existential risks. Especially in the case of AGI which could plausibly be more than 100x-1000x more intelligent than humans, this is likely very important.


 

Additionally, even if we assume that it is not necessary, mind enhancement will arguably still be an invaluable tool due to instrumentally boosting our efforts of solving existential risk, as described in the following section. 


 

Another vital argument is the fact that this instrumental boost is not limited to any particular cause area but rather applies to any problem. In this sense, mind enhancement is a way to boost humanity’s resilience against any existential risk in a way that is robust to changes in cause priorities and potential gaps in our knowledge. For example, mind enhancement knowledge and infrastructure would directly and instantly translate to all efforts tackling a potential ‘Cause X’ upon its discovery. Additionally, it would also likely boost the likelihood of discovering such a potential currently unknown cause area.


 

Instrumental Boost & Network Effects

My current knowledge leads me to believe that in the short-term individual enhancement of Intelligence or Power through classical and non-classical deployable MEI could yield performance improvements of 10-30% in individuals enhancing themselves.


 

It is hard to estimate the potential effect sizes of non-classical, novel and experimental MEI who are not yet ready to deploy due to insufficient evidence of effects/safety. However, I currently do not see a reason to assume that it is impossible to achieve similar or even better effects after short-term R&D. (see section on Tractability)


 

I base this on empirical evidence of effect sizes of classical MEI such as stimulants and interviews with (potentially biased) experts in the field such as psychiatrists, neuroscientists about the potential effectiveness of deployable MEI and various more experimental MEI. (see sections on Short Term Deployment and Longer-Term Development)


 

If we assume that the effects of enhancement of a single individual’s performance (e.g. AI safety researchers choosing to perform a MEI) transfer to group performance (e.g. one AI safety research group) in a linear way, we would see 10-30% increase in group performance which by itself is huge. 


 

However, it seems likely that the actual magnitude of group performance increase might be larger than the sum of the improvements on an individual level due to various non-linear gains on group level. For example, if MEIs allow for efficient coordination of bigger groups, the group output could grow supralinearly due to network effects.Similarly, mind enhancement could lead to more efficient communication and updating of information between members reducing redundancies thus increasing group efficiency beyond direct gains due to individual performance improvements.


 

I currently do not have the expertise or knowledge needed to model the effects of individual boost or ‘group enhancement interventions’ (e.g. better communication protocols due to thought-transfer BCI technology) on a network level. For the purposes of this post, it seems sufficient to look at the sum of potential individual gains and update that baseline upwards by some amount due to these possible non-linear effects.


 

Further investigation into this area such as modeling potential non-linear group performance gains through the lens of network science or microeconomics could be very valuable.

Boosting Benevolence

From Convergence Analysis’ Post on benevolence, intelligence, and power:
“1. From the perspective of improving the long-term future, it will typically be valuable to increase an actor’s “benevolence”: to cause an actor’s moral beliefs or values to better align with the goal of improving the expected value of the long-term future.”

2. That first implication seems robust to differences in how “intelligent” and “powerful” the actor is. That is, it seems increasing an actor’s benevolence will very rarely decrease the value of the future, even if the actor’s levels of intelligence and power are low.

3. It will be more valuable to increase the benevolence of actors who are more intelligent and/or more powerful. For example, it’s more valuable to cause a skilled problem-solver, bioengineering PhD student, senior civil servant, or millionaire to be highly motivated by impartial altruism than to cause the same change in someone with fewer intellectual and non-intellectual abilities and resources. This is because how good an actor’s moral beliefs or values are is especially important if the actor is very good at making and executing plans aligned with those moral beliefs or values.

This suggests that, if one is considering taking an action to improve actors’ benevolence, it could be worth trying to target this towards more intelligent and/or more powerful actors. For example, this could push in favour of focusing EA movement-building somewhat on talented graduate students, successful professionals, etc. (Though there are also considerations that push in the opposite direction, such as the value of reducing actual or perceived elitism within EA.)”

This means that potential MEIs enhancing benevolence (e.g. ‘moral enhancement’ through increasing empathy with neurotechnology or psychedelics) would have important instrumental importance in regards to improving the long-term-future while holding less downside risk from second-order consequences than enhancements of Intelligence or Power. This is important in the context of differential mind enhancement where an ideal strategy could look like offering and advocating for benevolence enhancement on a wide scale while Intelligence and Power enhancement could be deployed in a more precautious way taking downside risks from malevolent actors and accelerationism into account. (see following section on higher order downside risks)

Downside risks

Negative First Order Consequences: Health Risks & Unforeseen Downside

Some effective MEIs could constitute minimally-invasive or invasive medical interventions which inherently hold health risks such as potentially causing unintended side-effects.

For example, risk/benefit evaluation of MEIs could turn out to be wrong if interpretation of evidence regarding the safety of MEIs turns out to be inaccurate or misleading. This could potentially cause harm or suffering in individuals choosing to perform MEIs based on these evaluations. Additionally this could have net-negative effects on individuals’ work on reduction of existential risks in a differential mind enhancement context.


 

Similarly, if the effects of a given MEI turn out to be detrimental to work on reducing existential risk contrary to expectations, performing the enhancement would have net-negative consequences. For example, consider a MEI that allows for more concentrated work but ends up also reducing creative problem-solving ability.

This can be mitigated by thorough investigation of evidence of effects, safety and side-effect profiles of MEIs and conducting clinical research to improve the body of evidence. Furthermore, performing mind enhancement in an individualized and task-specific way could alleviate the risk of enhancement effects being net-negative in an unforeseen way.

Negative Higher Order Consequences

As a result of increased involvement in the field of mind enhancement, awareness and publicly available knowledge of effective MEI could increase and new effective MEI could be developed. This could lead to unintended negative and potentially disastrous consequences.

Malevolent Actors

Knowledge regarding effective MEI could pose information hazards: If actors with intentions that are detrimental to reducing existential risk and improving the long-term future (e.g. terrorists, political actors raising the chances of great power conflict) enhance their Intelligence or Power, the effects of mind enhancement technology development could end up causing extreme amounts of suffering or increasing existential risk. 


 

This could be mitigated by appropriate information hazard response strategies and differential mind enhancement deployment. (see section on short-term involvement)

Acceleration Risks

Knowledge regarding effective MEI could lead to increased adoption of MEIs enhancing Intelligence or Power outside of the EA bubble and on wider scales. Arguably, this could mean accelerating the general speed of progress which could counterfactually lead to premature invention of black ball type technologies (see Bostrom 2019) before adequate safety measures can be developed. For example, wide-spread adoption of MEIs might speed up the advent of superintelligence before the alignment problem can be solved. 


 

This could also be mitigated by appropriate information hazard response strategies and differential mind enhancement deployment. Furthermore, widespread adoption of MEIs enhancing Benevolence through differential mind enhancement would arguably be very desirable.

Coercion Dynamics & Distributional Assymmetries

Wide-scale deployment of MEIs could progressively lead to increases in average ‘Benevolence, Intelligence, Power’, eventually leaving individuals that do not use MEIs due to ethical or cultural reservations or due to lack of access behind. This might be problematic in two ways: First, this could increase inequality which is arguably a significant factor for societal instability, a cause for a lot of suffering and potentially contributes to existential risk. Second, it leads to pressure on individuals choosing to not use MEIs, restricting personal freedom and - again - arguably leading to increased societal instability. Depending on the perceived invasiveness or ‘extremity’ of MEIs, this could be an important dynamic to keep in mind.

However, it is useful to keep in mind that this argument generally applies to most novel technologies suitable for population scale use, a recent example being the advent of smartphones who have quickly become a societal must-have leaving people not buying smartphones behind.

Reputational Risks

Due to cultural and ethical societal concerns with certain types of MEIs, EA involvement in this area could lead to worsening of public perception of EA. For example, involvement with mind enhancement deployment or R&D could be perceived as elitist, cultist, extremist or morally misled.


 

This could be mitigated through competent communication of the overarching goal of doing the most good and improving the future for everyone and appropriate information hazard response strategies. 

Summary and Conclusion

In conclusion, the best-case scenario for mind enhancement, effective differential deployment of effective MEI, would not only instrumentally boost all efforts of doing good and thus all efforts of reducing existential risk - it might very well be a necessity for solving it. It does this in a cause-neutral manner, robust to changes in cause priorities and potential gaps in our knowledge

Estimating Magnitude of Importance

Consider the following factors, that I do not have good estimates for:

  • AGI (& existential catastrophe) timelines
  • the probability of humans currently being mentally capable enough to solve existential risk without further mind enhancement involvement
  • the extent to which mind enhancement involvement could decrease this
  • the extent to which mind enhancement could be a boosting factor for  x-risk reduction efforts


 

See Appendix D for more details on the process of how I estimated the following numbers:


 

In an optimistic scenario 
(40 year AI timelines, 
20% chance of not being mentally capable enough to solve x-risk, 
5% absolute reduction of this risk due to mind enhancement involvement, 
30% instrumental boos of x-risk reduction efforts due to mind enhancement involvement) 
a rough Fermi estimate yields 1,2% existential risk reduction due to mind enhancement involvement.


 

A scenario that I believe to be realistic 
(40 year AI timelines, 
20% chance of not being mentally capable enough to solve x-risk, 
1% absolute reduction of this risk due to mind enhancement involvement, 
10% instrumental boost of x-risk reduction efforts due to mind enhancement involvement)
the same estimate yields 0,36% existential risk reduction due to mind enhancement involvement.


 

This shows that depending on your assumptions of the size of these factors, mind enhancement involvement could plausibly amount to a decrease in existential risk of 0.1%-1%. This is a huge amount if we refer to the metrics that 80.000 hours uses to assess and compare impact, who consider the good done through risk reduction of this amount roughly equivalent to somewhere between curing cancer and eliminating extreme poverty.


 

Of course, I can neither exclude the possibility of the effects of mind enhancement involvement being even bigger still (Fermi estimates of utopian scenarios lead to up to 10% decrease in x-risk) or actually being net-negative or catastrophic due to downside risks (plausible pessimistic or catastrophic scenarios yield 0,1%-2% increases in existential risk). 


 

The huge possible value that mind enhancement involvement seems to potentially hold warrants further investigation and potentially further involvement in accordance with tractability and neglectedness of the field.

Economic and societal considerations of importance

For the sake of comprehensiveness, this section lists other arguments made regarding the importance of mind enhancement. Further investigation into these could be valuble.

Decreasing amount of harm caused by poor decision making 

In his ‘Cause profile: Cognitive Enhancement Research’, George Altman argues that cognitive enhancement could reduce suffering and harm caused by improving decision making.

He gives the medical field as an example: “one measurable estimate of harm is medical errors. Medical errors cause a considerable amount of harm (an estimated 44,000 - 98,000 deaths per year in the United States)” 

Economic considerations

In their post, ‘Consider raising IQ to do good’ user ‘Lila_Rieber’ argues that forms of mind enhancement that raise average population IQ could lead to large economic benefits due to possible reductions in violence, increased economic productivity, improved decision-making and increased innovation.

Theoretical tractability and systemic neglectedness

Tractability of enhancing the mind

This section will focus on giving a brief overview of considerations pertaining to the tractability of achieving meaningful mind enhancement in individuals from an evolutionary, neurobiological and practical perspective.


 

These considerations are fundamental for estimating the expected value of both short-term and long-term forms of involvement with the cause area - short-term MEI deployment, R&D, policy advocacy. Further considerations regarding the tractability and neglectedness of these specific forms of EA involvement with mind enhancement will be listed in the according sections.

Evolutionary Perspective

A frequent and important objection to the feasibility of mind enhancement grounded in the principles of evolution is the ‘Evolutionary Optimality Challenge’ (EOC): ‘If the proposed intervention would result in an enhancement, why have we not already evolved to be that way?’, treated in a classic paper by Bostrom and Sandberg.


 

The key takeaway from the paper is that there are a number of good reasons why evolution would have not led to our mind’s functioning being optimized for the demands posed by 21th century society and - more specifically - work on reduction of existential risk.


 

Summary

The EOC is an important consideration when evaluating the theoretical feasibility of mind enhancement generally and any specific MEI and its mode of action. In general, there are a number of reasons why an enhancement might pass the EOC. These can be conceptualized as ‘changed trade-offs’, ‘value discordance’, and ‘evolutionary restrictions’. 


 

The first one is based on the fact that the ancestral environment to which we adapted is starkly different from today’s world. Some adaptations that may have made sense in the past might not be ideal anymore in today’s world, such as excessive energy conservation that might have saved our ancestors from starvation now leading to obesity. It is even plausible that nature could have restricted energy supply for some functions in some situations, for instance possibly prioritizing energy conservation over high-performance cognitive function in times of low stress. This would be a less desirable trade-off today than back then.


A second way of passing the EOC is based on the fact that mere reproductive fitness is not humanity’s single central goal while it has been the driving force behind our evolution. Prolonging health-span far beyond fertile age does not hold any inherent value for evolution, yet might be considered valuable by modern humans. This would be an example of ‘value discordance’.


 

The third approach is grounded on the observation that the tools that evolution had at her disposal when evolving humans were limited. While equipped with organic chemistry, proteins, brains or complex genetic control mechanisms, mother nature never had semiconductors, low-power antennae or any other technologies based on chemicals and materials simply inaccessible to human evolution. A MEI enhancing a mental function thanks to physical or material properties of such technology, might also pass the EOC due to circumventing these ‘evolutionary restrictions’.


 

If a proposed MEI fails to meet any of the three categories, we have a good reason to be suspicious of its feasibility or effectiveness. If, however, it can provide a good answer to the EOC, we can be optimistic about its theoretical feasibility, as long as other theoretical limitations allow us to be.

Practical Perspective

Looking at individuals’ mental functioning in any domain such as IQ, emotionality, rationality or psychometric measures of mental energy or levels of impartial expansive altruism, we can usually observe big inter-individual variance. If we look at one of these domains and the human highest in it (e.g. Terence Tao who supposedly has the world’s highest IQ) we see that they will be much higher than those of most other humans.

This implies that almost all humans minds’ performances across almost all mental domains are worse than what a brain can theoretically achieve at maximum performance.

Of course, this might be in large part determined by genetics and development during youth - but it is likely that there is always some tractable room for improvement through different MEI.


 

In a similar vein, we have relatively robust empirical evidence of the positive effects of a few specific, currently widely deployed MEI (modafinil, methylphenidate, caffeine) for different functions of the mind such as memory, attention, wakefulness. This further illustrates that there is empirical evidence supporting the assumption that mind enhancement with meaningful effect sizes is indeed possible.


 

Neurobiological & Empirical Perspective

What can neuroscience tell us about the tractability of achieving meaningful effect sizes when enhancing specific properties and functions of the mind such as intelligence, creativity, mental energy, memory?


 

This is a difficult question to approach without a thorough investigation, thus far I have spent around 10-20 hours reading relevant literature*.


 

  • I found no literature on tractability of enhancement from a theoretical neuroscientific perspective.
  • I did find literature reviewing empirical data of the effectiveness of currently known and deployed mind enhancement interventions


 

As far as I understand the matter after my medium-depth investigation, I believe that the following conclusion by Farah et al. (2013) puts the current state of empirical evidence for most mind enhancement interventions very well: 


 

“Medications and noninvasive brain stimulation can enhance certain cognitive abilities in normal healthy individuals, although the robustness of these effects—their true size, replicability, and generalizability to nonlaboratory conditions – is unknown.


Also poorly understood at present are the possible negative consequences of these practices, from paradoxical impairment of performance in some to the potential for dependency and addiction.

At the same time, we know that some people are sufficiently convinced of the benefits of cognitive enhancement that they have become regular users. We have a sense of the scope of prescription stimulant use for cognitive enhancement in academia, but little beyond anecdotes and existence proofs where other populations and practices are concerned.”


 

Since then, more evidence has come up to establish effects for specific MEI but due to the general neglectedness of the field, not a whole lot has changed generally and there is still a lot of room for better research. This could improve our understanding of effects and safety of currently used and theoretically deployable MEIs, thus improving our estimation of cost/value when thinking about the upside of employing MEIs.


 

Furthermore, based on this medium-depth investigation there currently seems to be no reason to believe that there are fundamental neurobiological constraints in regards to the tractability of mind enhancement across effect domains (Intelligence, Power, Benevolence). Further investigation of this aspect in the context of an in-depth investigation through systematic literature review and interviews with experts from neuroscience, neurotechnology, neuropharmacology and psychiatry could prove very valuable.

Neglectedness

In this section I aim to give an overview of the neglectedness of mind enhancement within and outside of EA. Due to the complicated nature of the field, it is often not very illustrative to speak of the neglectedness of mind enhancement generally. For instance, while the amount of research done on cognitive enhancement in healthy humans is very low, there is a lot of research currently being done on cognitive enhancement in certain diseases such as dementia, cognitive impairment or ADHD.


 

For this reason, it makes sense to look at the neglectedness of different strategies of mind enhancement involvement according to MEI deployment stages:


 

  • experimental MEI (insufficiently developed for use in humans)
  • almost deployable MEI (insufficient data on efficacy/safety; not widely used)
  • deployable MEI (data on efficacy/safety; widely used but non-mainstream)
  • classical MEI (mainstream use e.g. caffeine, meditation)


 

We can conceptualize strategies of mind enhancement involvement as moving MEIs down the deployment funnel. For example, a fundamental mind enhancement research project could identify new potential eMEIs or develop eMEIs to adMEI/dMEI level. 

A clinical mind enhancement research group could conduct healthy-volunteer clinical trials on effects and safety of MEIs to gather sufficient data to push almost deployable MEIs to deployable level.

A mind enhancement clinic could deploy dMEIs in a differential way by offering individualized medical guidance on performing MEIs responsibly and safely in a manner enabling positive EV.


 

For overviews regarding considerations of neglectedness and tractability for specific strategies to mind enhancement involvement, please refer to the sections on deployment / development strategies. In the following, I will give a brief overview of current EA involvement with the subject and a bird's-eye perspective on overall work and research relevant or adjacent to mind enhancement.

Neglectedness of behavioral mind enhancement

Since mind enhancement in the sense of ‘a general umbrella term for any improvement of functions, processes and qualities related to the mind’ is a very broad term, it includes a lot of areas that do not seem neglected.

Neglectedness outside of EA

For example, behavioral MEIs like formal education, language, information technology and meditation all fit this definition quite well. The field of mental health & well-being and  self-improvement also qualifies. In this sense, behavioral mind enhancement is arguably the most traditional and widely adopted form of mind enhancement. Thus, giving an overview of this field will largely be beyond the scope of this post, due to this field not seeming neglected at first glance. It is plausible that meaningful, sustainable non-behavioral mind enhancement via pharmacological, neurotechnological or genetic means cannot be accomplished without a holistic approach based on behavioral MEI (e.g. good sleep, sports, diet). For this reason, sections describing short- and medium-term deployment will also make references to behavioral MEI and relevant organizations and initiatives.


 

Neglectedness within EA

There are a lot of EA-adjacent communities, initiatives and organizations that deal with behavioral MEI such as arguably the whole of the rationality community including organizations such as the Center for Applied Rationality. Also, there are a number of EA organizations and initiatives adjacent to mind enhancement who focus on providing support for psychological issues, mental health & well-being & (behavioral) self-improvement. (see Appendix B for a list) Finally, the cause area of improved institutional decision-making arguably also shares some overlap with the field of mind enhancement. 


 

See this excellent post by Ozzie Gooen on Prioritization Research for Advancing Wisdom and Intelligence that focuses on the importance of behavioral mind enhancement and includes a detailed list of relevant organizations and initiatives in the space of EA behavioral mind enhancement.

Summary

The space of behavioral mind enhancement seems to not be as neglected as the space of non-behavioral mind enhancement. However, it might still be neglected overall. In any case, this is why the following sections looking at neglectedness will focus on non-behavioral means such as pharmacological, neurotechnological and genetic enhancement. In practice, effective deployment of MEI will probably want to be based on a holistic approach incorporating behavioral as well as non-behavioral strategies. (see sections on short- and medium-term deployment)

Neglectedness within EA

This section focuses on non-behavioral means of mind enhancement. For a discussion of behavioral means, see ‘Neglectedness of behavioral mind enhancement’.

Posts and Discussion

LessWrong & EA Forum 

To my knowledge there are currently six posts on the EA Forum dealing with mind enhancement including the one I published ~4 months ago that serves as a basis for this post:

Consider raising IQ to do good
Genetic Enhancement as a Cause Area

Prioritization Research for Advancing Wisdom and Intelligence

Mind Enhancement: A High Impact, High Neglect Cause Area?

Cause profile: Cognitive Enhancement Research

Cause Area: Differential Neurotechnology Development


 

Additionally I used Google to search for results on following terms on LessWrong and the EA Forum:


 

Search Term"cognitive enhancement" "moral enhancement""performance enhancement""nootropics""neuroenhancement"“mind enhancement”"aging""cancer"“AI”
No. of Results on EA Forum116200724244004635 900 
No. of Results on LessWrong186219287821 2901 53011 800


 

This shows that in terms of volume of discussion and posts, topics adjacent to mind enhancement seem to be neglected by a factor of x5-x10 when compared with aging or cancer on the EA Forum and on LessWrong. However, the area seems to have been picking up steam in the last 2-3 years in terms of an increase in the number of posts.

Organisations and Initiatives

To my knowledge, there is currently one EA-adjacent initiative focusing on mind enhancement deployment: [censored](the author has since asked me to remove this), a page that provided guides for mind enhancement focusing on hormonal interventions. Its content has since apparently gone offline. Two other projects worth mentioning are Scott Alexander’s EA-adjacent Astral Codex Ten (formerly known as Slate Star Codex) and Gwern’s gwern.net two blogs who often focus on nootropics and mind enhancement. These may have played a significant role in shaping the current overlap of the EA and nootropics community. 


 

Furthermore, there are currently 12 EA organizations and initiatives adjacent to mind enhancement who focus on providing support for psychological issues, mental health & well-being & (behavioral) self-improvement. (see Appendix B for an overview)


 

Finally, I just won 10k $ of seed funding for hosting a mind enhancement retreat this Fall, a weekend retreat bringing together ~30 top EA thinkers, researchers and entrepreneurs in areas relevant to mind enhancement as a way of growing an EA community around the cause area. (Sign up here to get informed about applications opening or if you are interested in being part of the team and helping with organization & operations)


 

Grants and Incentives

80.000 hours currently lists ‘Improving individual reasoning or cognition’ among their list of ‘Potential highest priorities’ - a list of cause areas that have a chance of being as important as their priority problems that they ‘haven’t investigated enough to know’.


 

I looked at current focus areas of two big EA-adjacent funds: OpenPhilantropy and FTX Future Funds.


 

OpenPhilantropy is currently not listing mind enhancement or a directly related field as a focus area. Arguably, the focus areas “Scientific Innovation: Tools and Techniques” and “Other Scientific Research Areas” are relevant to potential projects in the area of mind enhancement. A search through current OpenPhilantropy grants using “enhancement” as a search term yielded zero results.


 

Future Funds currently lists one concrete idea among their list of project ideas adjacent to mind enhancement: “AI-based cognitive aids”. Their list of areas of interest currently includes zero areas directly adjacent to mind enhancement.

Anecdote from Anders Sandberg

It is notable that a lot of the academic literature relevant to the importance of mind enhancement from an EA / long-termist perspective was published in the years around 2005-2010 by early Future of Humanity Institute researchers such as Anders Sandberg and Nick Bostrom. After this time period, research interest apparently decreased again. When I asked Anders Sandberg about this, he told me his perspective on why that was the case: FHI used to be very enthusiastic about the pressigness of mind enhancement until further investigation of the existential risks stemming from Superintelligence led them to shift their focus. At the time it appeared to be even more pressing to research AGI and AI safety. However, most researchers at FHI generally continue to be optimistic about the potentially tremendous importance of mind enhancement in general and in the context of AI safety.

Neglectedness within EA - Conclusion

Mind enhancement currently seems to be relatively neglected in terms of community discussion on the EA Forum by a factor of x5-x10 when for instance compared with aging or cancer.


 

To my knowledge, there is currently only one EA-adjacent initiative with the goal of field building within mind enhancement: the Mind Enhancement Retreat that I want to host in ~3 months time. There are a few EA-adjacent blogs who sometimes focus on nootropics and cognitive enhancement. Furthermore, there are about a dozen organizations and initiatives dealing with mental health and well-being. While 80.000 Hours considers ‘Improving individual reasoning or cognition’ a potential priority, they have not yet investigated it further.  OpenPhilantropy and FTX Future Funds are not currently listing mind enhancement as a focus area or priority. 

Neglectedness beyond EA

This section focuses on non-behavioral means of mind enhancement. For a discussion of behavioral means, see ‘Neglectedness of behavioral mind enhancement’.

Systemic Neglectedness of Mind Enhancement

This section aims to give a brief overview of the different incentives actors may have had in the past to conduct R&D relevant to mind enhancement. I am assuming here that the two major drivers of innovation in the medical field are 

  1. public medical research grants
  2. pharmaceutical industry developing for the drug / medical devices market

I then briefly look at other actors that might have interest in mind enhancement research.


 

public medical research grants

To determine the relevance of the first pillar for mind enhancement, I looked at the number of  US public grants made for subfields of mind enhancement. When doing this, it is quite obvious that mind enhancement does not seem to be a priority for public research funding agencies such as the NIH, FDA or NSF[1]. (see also section on R&D metrics) The only exception to this is the US military, who has made some public grants related to enhancement. (see section on US military)


 

pharmaceutical industry developing for the drug / medical devices market

The chief goal of the pharmaceutical industry is to develop drugs that get approval by the FDA (or similar institutions in other countries) for treatment of specific diseases. More specifically, drugs are always approved for a specific indication which is essentially a disease or a certain sub-population of people with a disease. For example, a drug can be approved for Type 2 Diabetes or for people with Type 2 Diabetes that are above 65 years old. Since the use case of using a drug for mind enhancement (in healthy humans) is not considered a disease, drugs are currently not approved for mind enhancement. This means that generally, pharmaceutical companies do not have an incentive to pursue research on mind enhancement per se.4 

However, there are many psychiatric and neurological diseases that involve impairment of some functions of the mind so that mind-enhancing drugs are potentially useful treatments. This means that there is an incentive for industry to pursue pharmaceutical research on mind enhancement to some extent. (see section on direct and indirect research and MEI deployment stages for more detail)

It is hard to make a general statement about the extent to which mind-enhancing properties in populations with disease translate to healthy mind enhancement. However, it is likely that a proportion of these drugs will retain mind-enhancing effects beyond use in diseases. (see sections on tractability for discussion of general tractability of enhancing the mind and medium-term development & deployment for discussion of leveraging past pharmaceutical research for deployment of MEIs)
 

military mind enhancement

There is evidence that the US military is doing and has done mind enhancement research. This is evidenced for example by the fact that the only US grants related to mind enhancement have originated from US defense research. A recent review suggests that this enhancement has mostly focused on behavioral means due to a variety of regulatory and bureaucratic constraints. It is plausible that not all US military capabilities in regards to mind enhancement are publicly known.
 

More research into this might prove valuable.
 

elite mind enhancement

Another set of actors that might have interest in mind enhancement research are economic and political elites such as billionaires or heads of state. It is likely that information these kinds of potential elite mind enhancement projects would not readily be found on the internet or accessible to the general public. 
 

More research into this might prove valuable.

R&D metrics

I have looked at the following metrics to provide an overview of the neglectedness of current work and research relevant to mind enhancement outside of EA.

  • Numbers of Public US Grants on grants.gov (including but not limited to grants made by the National Institute of Health, Food and Drug Administration, National Science Foundation, US military)
  • Number of clinical trials registered on clinicaltrials.gov
  • Number of publications on PubMed
     

Here are the results: 

 Cognitive EnhancementMoral EnhancementPerformance EnhancementNootropicsNeuroenhancementAgingCancer
public US grants0040274196
registered trials69172642 42291 430
publications30461322 297322223548 3792 724 283


 

Mind Enhancement appears to be strongly neglected by current US public grants for research and development relative to the areas of aging and cancer by a factor between x20-x100. 

Similarly, clinical trials researching mind enhancement seem to be neglected relative to aging & cancer by a factor of x35 (relative to aging) and over x1000 (relative to cancer).

Finally, the same overall trend emerges when looking at publications, where mind enhancement seems to be neglected by a factor of x180 (relative to aging) and x900 (relative to cancer)


 

I have not found a direct way to look up the total amount of funding for mind enhancement, cancer and aging behind the metrics used above. However, if the total amount of funding is proportional to the number of grants, publications and trials, similar orders of magnitude of neglectedness of mind enhancement relative to aging and cancer would emerge. In practice, it is plausible that the actual relative neglectedness of mind enhancement in terms of $ of funding is higher still as trials dealing with aging and cancer might on average be larger and thus more expensive.

Direct and indirect research and MEI deployment stages

Furthermore, what these figures mostly do not take into account is the split of how much effort goes into “direct” mind enhancement research, i.e. research on deploying MEI to healthy volunteers, and how much goes into “indirect” mind enhancement research, i.e. research that looks at enhancement in certain diseases. It is likely that the latter constitutes a significant portion or even the majority of effort. This would mean that “direct” enhancement research arguably is even more neglected than what the estimations of the previous section would suggest.


 

Implication

One question we could pose is to what extent that indirect research on adjacent diseases generalizes to mind enhancement more broadly. In his post on cognitive enhancement research, George Altman estimates the proportion that is directly relevant to mind enhancement at 1%. Subsequently, he lists the amount of funding for diseases such as Alzheimer's ($2,240 million) and ADHD ($70 million), takes 1% and concludes that funding for research directly relevant to mind enhancement (including non direct and some other sources) was at $5-25 million per year over the last decade.


 

In this section I want to argue that this provides a good indicator that in some ways, research directly relevant to mind enhancement is not as neglected as it appears to be from other perspectives. However, I believe that this does not take the full nuance of the field into account and might thus actually be misleading when estimating neglectedness of mind enhancement with an EA perspective. This is due to not taking deployment stages of MEIs into account:


 

We can say that direct mind enhancement research, i.e. research on MEI in healthy volunteers, which seems to be very neglected, is equivalent to 

  1. refining classical (cMEI) and deployable MEI (dMEI) protocols for safer & more effective use in healthy humans
  2. moving almost deployable MEI (adMEI) to a deployable stage
  3. (researching experimental MEI (eMEI) uses in healthy humans)


 

Furthermore, we can say that indirect mind enhancement research, i.e. research on MEI in disease is equivalent to

  1. researching cMEI, dMEI & adMEI for use in disease
  2. moving eMEI to adMEI
  3. researching novel eMEI


 

This implies the following:

  • indirect mind enhancement research leads to growth on top of the deployment stage funnel by researching new eMEI & moving eMEI to adMEI stage
  • indirect mind enhancement research may lead to some insights into cMEI and dMEI that are directly relevant to mind enhancement
  • however, (per definition) indirect mind enhancement research usually does not lead to adMEI being developed for use in healthy humans
  • thus, it usually does not lead to adMEI moving to dMEI level


 

Coupled with the fact that there has actually been a lot of research into some diseases relevant for mind enhancement such as ADHD, Alzheimer’s or schizophrenia research, we may expect the following:


 

  • some forms of research into MEI may not be as neglected as others
  • specifically, we can expect a large deployment overhang in terms of how many adMEIs have never been researched for (healthy) mind enhancement and have thus never reached dMEI stage


 

Summary

Due to the complicated nature of the field of mind enhancement, it may be misleading to try and compute overall neglectedness of the field factoring in research efforts for certain diseases adjacent to mind enhancement, which are often funded well. (e.g. Alzheimer’s, ADHD) These will usually only be discovering new eMEI and moving them to adMEI level, thus only operating at the top of the MEI deployment funnel. Direct mind enhancement research, which excludes studies done in populations with diseases, is likely very neglected. 

This implies that there might be a large deployment overhang in terms of the number of adMEIs have never been researched for (healthy) mind enhancement and have thus never reached dMEI stage. (see section on medium-term deployment & development for further discussion of this)

Possible Strategies of (EA) Mind Enhancement Involvement

For coming up with possible strategies to mind enhancement involvement, it makes a lot of sense to first consider the current status quo of the field. Which MEIs currently exist, what are the current barriers to deploying them, how much do we know about their safety and effects?


 

As there are hundreds to thousands of possible MEIs, it makes sense to categorize them to facilitate getting a big-picture view of the current state of the art and coming up with strategies to mind enhancement involvement.


 

For this reason, I chose to classify MEIs into the following four categories, as already alluded to earlier in this post:


 

  • experimental / theoretical MEIs (eMEI) are promising but not ready for deployment yet due to practical or fundamental technological problems - for example invasive brain implants such as Neuralink or genetic enhancement through iterated embryo selection (see section on long-term development)


 

  • almost deployable MEIs (adMEIs) are promising but lack sufficient evidence to be responsibly deployed on wider scales - examples would be promising psychopharmaceuticals that have not been explicitly investigated for mind enhancement purposes (see section on medium-term deployment & development)


 

  • deployable MEIs are ones that are currently being used to some extent (e.g. in certain niches) that have the potential (i.e. sufficient evidence of effects/safety) to be responsibly deployed on wider scales (given legal tractability) - examples would be modafinil or methylphenidate


 

  • classical / traditional / main-stream MEIs (cMEIs) are already being widely used by billions of people - for example caffeine


 

As we already saw earlier in the section on neglectedness, some aspects of R&D and deployment in terms of moving MEIs down the deployment stage funnel seem to be very neglected (e.g. direct mind enhancement research in healthy volunteers) while others seem to not be. (e.g. drug research on neuropsychiatric diseases discovering adMEI) I argued that this has led to a deployment overhang in terms of how many adMEIs have never been researched for (healthy) mind enhancement and have thus never reached dMEI stage.


 

In the following, I will give an overview of possible ways to leverage the current state of the field in the context of differential mind enhancement

Differential mind enhancement

Differential mind enhancement is a strategy to (EA) mind enhancement involvement that aims to do the most good in terms of increasing well-being and boosting efforts of improving the future and reducing existential risk while minimizing downside risk.


 

In the first part of this post, I have argued that (differential) mind enhancement is a cause pressing enough to warrant prioritization of further cause investigation and involvement as it is important, neglected and tractable.


 

In the rest of this post, I aim to show possible strategies for mind enhancement involvement (SMI) in a differential way. I have chosen to divide these into three broader categories based on time likely required. 


 

  • Short-Term Involvement (6 months to 2 years)
  • Medium-Term Development and Deployment (2-10 years)
  • Long-Term Development (over 10 years)

I find it likely that a portion of these strategies should meet the bar for cost-effectiveness and pressingness, however further investigation of specific strategies and specific proposals will be required to get to a final decision if a strategy is worth pursuing. (especially for medium- and long-term strategies)

Short-Term Involvement

I see two major strategies to mind enhancement involvement in the short-term that are complementary:

  • EA field building efforts for mind enhancement
  • MEI deployment

EA field building efforts for differential mind enhancement

Status Quo, Importance, Tractability and Neglectedness

Status Quo

To my knowledge, there are currently no organizations or EAs working on mind enhancement field building except for me. There is one informal WhatsApp group of EA-adjacent thinkers, researchers and entrepreneurs in the field of mind enhancement that I co-founded at EAGx Oxford five months ago (March 2022) that has since grown to ~30 members. (Feel free to reach out to me at tim.farkas@charite.de if you have relevant background or experience and want to join!)


 

At the ‘Future Forum’ conference five days ago my proposal for a ‘Mind Enhancement Retreat’ won seed funding of $ 10.000 which will allow me to get going on hosting a mind enhancement retreat in ~3 months. I will likely require more funding if I want to get a venue and catering for ~30 guests and provide travel grants for attendees from overseas. I will be working on fundraising for that project after this post. Sign up here to be notified once applications open or if you want to be a part of the team and help with organizing/operations.


 

Also, I’d love to hear from you if you work or have worked on similar projects!

Importance, Tractability and Neglectedness

Importance

The theory of change for field building in mind enhancement goes as follows:

 

Right now, many EAs are independently working on and thinking about mind enhancement.

The field offers opportunities for

  • differential deployment of mind enhancement interventions
  • further R&D into mind enhancement interventions
  • policy change / advocacy for more rational, EV-based regulation of mind enhancement and incentivize mind enhancement research

However:

  1. There is no community around the subject and it is not usually mentioned as a cause area by EAs.
  2. There are a lot of untapped synergies (e.g. neurotech projects looking for talent, neuroscience graduates looking for an EA-aligned career)
  3. There are currently no comprehensive cause area analyses, no big grant programs, no field-building orgs around mind enhancement.
  4. Many talented EAs with good personal fit / comparative advantage for the topic are not considering mind enhancement as a potential cause area to work in.

This is equivalent to likely missing millions of $ of counterfactual cost-effective funding opportunities per year and missing out on up to several percent of potential x-risk reduction over the next 100 years.

Neglectedness

see Status Quo


 

Tractability

This seems very tractable as EA has a lot of experience and a successful track record in field-building for previously non-mainstream causes. (e.g. AI safety)


 

Downside risks

Besides slight reputational risks, I do not see how field building for mind enhancement could directly cause harm or increase existential risk if done right. (i.e. in a thoughtful and precautious way) 

Summary & current funding opportunities

EA field building for mind enhancement seems like a low-hanging fruit in terms of being a relatively cheap and tractable way to advance differential mind enhancement with minimal risks and huge potential upside. Establishing an EA mind enhancement community would serve as fertile grounds for further thoughtful involvement with the cause, enabling broader discourse and investigation around its importance and potential downside risks. 

Current funding opportunities include:

  • A Mind Enhancement Retreat (forum post coming up)
  • Funding current community building organizations and initiatives to focus on mind enhancement (e.g. CERI, High Impact Medicine)
     

Gathering high-quality knowledge on dMEI

As mentioned in the first part of this post, there are some MEIs that are already deployable in the sense that there is sufficient data of their effectiveness and safety that many individuals are already choosing to perform them. A concerted effort to gather the knowledge we currently have could be a basis for further strategies of mind enhancement involvement such as an EA mind enhancement service (see following section ‘EA mind enhancement service’) or serve as a reference for research moving adMEIs to a deployable stage. (see section on medium term development)

Status Quo, Importance, Tractability and Neglectedness

To my knowledge, there is currently no high-quality concerted effort of estimating effects and safety of all dMEIs as a basis for context-dependent mind enhancement. Currently there are a lot of relatively systematic resources and a huge amount of personal opinions on the internet which such a project could be based upon. Please correct me if I am wrong and you are aware of any project that already does this to the extent that I describe.
 

Sites such as examine.com or online nootropics guides could be used as a starting point for a more in-depth literature research project listing effect sizes and safety of all dMEIs along with quality of evidence. Given sufficient thoroughness and comprehensiveness such a project could be an invaluable starting point for further strategies involving differential deployment. Even just as a more reputable source of high-quality information of safety and effects of different (non-behavioral) MEIs it could already have great instrumental value to efforts of doing good and potentially reduce harm caused by uninformed use of MEIs.

Summary & current funding opportunities

A research project with the aim of comprehensively and thoroughly gathering all knowledge of effect sizes and safety of all dMEIs we currently have thus seems very important & tractable and likely neglected. It seems unlikely that it should be associated with any significant downside risk as compiling existing publicly accessible information is unlikely to pose information hazards or risk EA reputation. 
 

I am not aware of any initiatives or EAs that are currently doing this. I know a few people who might have a good personal fit for such a project and would be motivated to initiate such a project.

differential deployment of deployable mind enhancement interventions (dMEI) or ‘EA mind enhancement service’

As mentioned in the first part of this post, there are some mind enhancement interventions that are already deployable in the sense that there is sufficient data of their effectiveness and safety that many individuals are already choosing to perform them. A short-term SMI could be an initiative offering individualized medical and psychological guidance and support to enable safe and effective deployment of MEI on a wider scale. This could be based on a research project that comprehensively and thoroughly gathers all knowledge of effect sizes and safety of all dMEIs as laid out in the above section.

Path towards an EA mind enhancement service

Such a project could be initiated along the following lines:
 

0 Determining overall strategy, verifying that there is actually a demand among target group, looking into legal framework, estimating required cost, fundraising 

1 Gathering knowledge (see section on gathering high-quality knowledge on dMEI):

  • systematic collection of knowledge on effects, safety and protocols of non-behavioral dMEI
  • systematic collection of knowledge on behavioral mind enhancement interventions in an evidence-based way

2 Setting up infrastructure:

  • partnering with existing infrastructure adjacent to mind enhancement (see Appendix B)
  • setting up virtual and/or physical infrastructure (e.g. web page, real estate)
  • onboarding medical doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, coaches

3 Deployment

  • individualized medical and psychological guidance of benevolent actors to boost efforts of doing good, improving the long-term future and reducing existential risk

Status Quo

Right now, no EA adjacent mind enhancement service exists.

Importance, Tractability, Neglectedness

Importance

If we assume that positive impact of individuals is power-law distributed, and that a mind enhancement service can achieve a sustainable and safe increase in individual impact upon enhancement, such a service would have a big positive impact. 

I find it likely that through a context-dependent approach to mind enhancement individual intelligence & power could on average be enhanced by a significant amount, a rough estimate being 20-30%. It is possible that enhancement effects would be lower for individuals that are already naturally performing better or far better than average. I still find it likely that such individuals could benefit by up to 10-20% through context-dependent mind enhancement.

These effect sizes are my best-guess conservative estimates taking into account my understanding of current literature, conversations with medical doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists and experiences and anecdotes from the nootropics and rationalist communities.

Assuming these effect sizes are indeed possible, a mind enhancement service could have a tremendous positive impact on our efforts of doing good, improving the long-term future and reducing existential risk. (see section on Importance)

Tractability

I see four major questions of tractability for a mind enhancement service.

  • Tractability of Effective Mind Enhancement
  • Demand & Need
  • Legal Tractability
  • Practical Tractability

Tractability of Enhancement

Could such a service actually work?

As previously argued, there is no fundamental reason why mind enhancement should be impossible and we have empirical evidence that it is possible. (see sections on context-dependent mind enhancement and tractability)

Demand & Need

Do people actually want such a service?

The 2020 Star Codex Survey by rationalist / EA blogger Scott Alexander on >8.000 EAs/rationalists showed that there is openness and demand in the EA community in regards to mind enhancement: A large majority of the respondents had experimented with MEIs such as nootropics or circadian rhythm hacking. 

Furthermore, more than 1 in 3 respondents stated suffering from mental health issues associated with executive or cognitive dysfunction and loss of productivity. 35% stated to suffer from Depression, 30% from anxiety and 25% from ADHD. These numbers are roughly 3 times as high as the ones reported in the normal population in the western world. 

In this sense, partnering up with existing EA initiatives (see Appendix B) that focus on alleviating mental health problems and increasing health & well-being could be an important factor in terms of practical tractability.

Practical Tractability & Credibility 

Is it actually possible to set up such a service?

I find it likely that in practice, the biggest issue of tractability could be finding enough talent to scale a mind enhancement service to the level that would be optimal for achieving maximum effectiveness of differential mind enhancement. For example, it could pose a challenge to find enough medical doctors, psychiatrists & psychotherapists (who are generally in high demand) to scale up a mind enhancement service so that it benefits hundreds of people.

Furthermore, a mind enhancement service would want to have highest standards of credibility and reputability. It could be difficult to find the kind of talent that would allow for this, as this likely means getting people on board with decades of experience.

Legal Tractability

Would a mind enhancement service actually be allowed to offer all dMEIs to individuals?

The most effective MEIs are arguably the ones contributing to achieving individual baseline through reaching optimal health & well-being. In this sense, the large majority of performed MEIs would not pose issues of legal tractability in any way. There could be some cases where individuals would want to perform MEIs that are currently approved by the FDA for certain indications and thus require a prescription. (e.g. Modafinil) I am not a legal professional nor a doctor, so more research and legal advice would be required before moving forward with a mind enhancement service. Here is what I could find on legal tractability of setting up a mind enhancement service based on a quick internet research and mainly the expertise of a friend of mine who is MD:

  • As long as the prescription is by a doctor and the client/patient pays out of pocket and written consent is given, a doctor can prescribe any drug off-label.
  • The indication mostly needs to be given in order for it to be paid for by the healthcare system. However, in cases where individual context includes symptoms like "difficulty concentrating", "fatigue", "difficulties remembering" it would make things even more safe - esp. if signed by the client/patient.
  • If all these are given, the risks of loss of license is almost none - given that the drugs prescribed are already approved drugs.
  • All this can easily be done in the US, EU, etc.: a lot of private doctors do similar things already.
  • Furthermore, it is very unlikely that a patient complains - even if a good written consent form should cover that.”

This means that a mind enhancement service could likely perform all or at least most currently known dMEIs without issues of legal tractability.

Further research would need to be done if this could also work for a virtual-only mind enhancement service.

Neglectedness

See section on status quo.

Potential downside risks

Risks for a mind enhancement service are arguably bigger than for projects solely focusing on gathering knowledge or field building:

  • reputational risks
  • MEIs actually having net-negative effects
  • risks from enhancing malevolent or negative-impact actors (e.g. enhancing AI researchers non-thoughtfully accelerating AI)

See section on downside risks for a more detailed discussion of each of these. These risks could be minimized through thoughtful context- and task-dependent mind enhancement, good branding & good communication of underlying motivations (i.e. the aim of doing good effectively)

Summary and current funding opportunities

Initiating a mind enhancement service such as an online service or a clinic could be a way of boosting effectively current efforts of doing good which means it could be tremendously important. (see section on importance) This is currently strongly neglected and while it seems slightly less tractable and riskier than previously described strategies (field building, gathering knowledge), it still appears to have a high potential to be a very cost-effective funding opportunity due to the immense positive impact it could bring. Furthermore, this seems like an SMI that could be started and generate positive impact even on short timelines (<2 years) given concerted effort and enough funding.


 

More investigation and discussion of this SMI is needed. Furthermore, there are seemingly no direct funding opportunities in this space right now. It would likely require significant initiative to start a mind enhancement service from scratch, one more tractable way of doing this could be to piggyback off of current mind enhancement adjacent EA initiatives and organizations. (see Appendix B)

Medium-Term Development (2-10 years)

Depending on the effectiveness of differential dMEI deployment done right through a EA mind enhancement service as laid out in the previous section and the neurobiological tractability of mind enhancement generally, medium-term strategies could take the following forms: 

  • development and deployment of new dMEI via clinical research on adMEI
  • policy initiatives advocating for more rational drug policy or changing incentive structures around mind enhancement research

development and deployment of new (pharmaceutical) deployable MEI based on current almost deployable MEI

As argued before, there is plausibly a large deployment overhang in terms of MEIs that have reached adMEI stage due to medical & pharmaceutical research but have never been investigated for healthy mind enhancement to reach dMEI status.

In other words, pharma and the state have likely invested billions into researching substances with huge potential for mind enhancement (adMEI) that no one is currently researching for healthy mind enhancement due to the general, systemic neglectedness of the field.

An SMI here could take the form of funding clinical research on healthy volunteers to get sufficient data to move adMEi to deployable stage.

Status Quo, Tractability and Neglectedness 

To my knowledge, this is currently neglected both within and outside of EA. (see section on neglectedness)

Importance, Tractability

This could be hugely impactful for reasons analogous to ones listed above. (see section on importance)

In terms of tractability, the biggest potential issues are likely funding, legal and ethics committee constraints.

Funding

Evaluating the cost of a trial that generates enough evidence of safety and efficacy to warrant moving adMEI to dMEI level goes beyond the scope of this post. A rough reference would be the cost of clinical research trials generally which can cost up to several millions of dollars. 
 

This is expensive but I find it possible that the huge potential upside could make such a research effort into the most promising adMEI candidates cost-effective at some point in this decade. See Appendix C for an overview of indications that are relevant to mind enhancement purposes and a list of adMEI already approved for treating them in a way relevant to mind enhancement.

Legal and Ethics Committee Challenges

I am not a legal professional nor a doctor, so more research and legal advice would be required before moving forward with this kind of R&D. Here is what I could find on legal tractability of funding adMEI research based on a quick internet search and mainly the expertise of a friend of mine who is an MD:

  • Tractability strongly depends on the ethics committee, whose rigor can vary widely from country to country and even from hospital to hospital. If a trial proposal passes an ethics committee (every major university hospital has one), then it should mostly be fine.
  • Everything should be much easier (i.e., it should pass the ethics committee more easily) if there is a benefit to patients of a certain condition. For example, you test out nicotine gum on healthy volunteers in order to get data on nicotine’s effect on memory, which might be of interest to Alzheimer’s.
  • In this case, ethics committee approval and thus legal tractability should not be too much of a problem.”

Downside Risks

This approach seems to be more risky than the other ones due to potential information hazards in finding new dMEI more effective than the current ones. This means risk from malevolent actors and general acceleration as well as inequality potentially increasing. 

Summary and current funding opportunities

In conclusion, funding clinical research on healthy volunteers to get sufficient data to move adMEi to a deployable stage seems like an incredibly important, neglected and relatively tractable strategy. Furthermore, this seems like a unique opportunity to leverage billions of dollars of research that have been already invested by the pharmaceutical industry and government for developing safe mind enhancement potentially more effective than any current dMEI.

A funding strategy here could first aim to identify the most promising adMEI and then pay a CRO or the previously proposed mind enhancement clinic to conduct research. Due to the potentially dangerous downside risks, more investigation needs to be done here.

Medium to Long-Term Development (over 10 years)

R&D

Depending on the success of approaches lined out above, it might prove pressing to fund research into developing novel eMEI or getting eMEI currently under investigation to a dMEI stage faster.

In particular, genetic means of mind enhancement seem particularly powerful when working with longer timelines. (see Bostrom 2014 on Embryo Selection)

Furthermore, neurotechnological means of mind enhancement could also be very powerful and potentially more tractable. However, tt goes beyond the scale of this post to take an in-depth look at these kinds of potentially pressing longer-term strategies. 

For a great review of medium- to long-term development of neurotech eMEI that are currently in clinical trials, see Milan Cvitkovic’s post ‘Cause Area: Differential Neurotechnology Development

There he goes into more detail regarding the medium- to long-term potential of neurotechnological MEI stating: 

  • Neurotechnologies currently in clinical trials could have large-scale impacts in 1-5 decades, with a mean estimate of 30 years.
  • With concerted effort, neurotechnologies currently in clinical and preclinical development could be advanced in 10 to 20 years to the point where they might meaningfully benefit AI safety, in addition to other, potentially less-urgent benefits.”

Furthermore, he provides a comprehensive list of neurotechnological adMEI and eMEI that are either currently in use in humans, currently in clinical development or currently in preclinical development.


 

Policy 

advocacy for drug policy reform & changing incentive structures around mind enhancement research

It is likely worth investigating whether advocacy for drug policy reform (e.g. legalizing certain MEI that are currently prescription-only or scheduled) and changing research incentive structures (e.g. convincing government to fund mind enhancement or the FDA to consider mind enhancement in healthy people an indication)


 

For reference, here is a very detailed post by user ‘MichaelPlant’ on the possible pressingness of drug policy reform generally:
High Time For Drug Policy Reform

Final Summary

EA Involvement with Mind Enhancement seems to be incredibly important in that differential mind enhancement could mean up to several percent of counterfactual  potential x-risk reduction over the next few decades. 80.000 hours would consider such a reduction equivalent to curing cancer or eliminating extreme poverty.

It seems to be tractable in the sense that we already have empirical evidence of mind enhancement with effect sizes sufficient to potentially lead to large reductions in existential risk (rough estimates being at 0.1-1%) and no theoretical reasons why larger mind enhancement effect sizes should not be possible.

Additionally it seems to be neglected by a factor of roughly ~x1000 relative to e.g. aging research in terms of effort going into direct mind enhancement research, i.e. research to develop mind enhancement interventions for use in healthy humans. 

On the other hand, due to billions of $ flowing into research for diseases relevant to mind enhancement such as ADHD or Alzheimer's there is a large number of almost deployable mind enhancement interventions.

This leads to a large deployment overhang of mind enhancement interventions that have large potential but are not yet ready for healthy use due to insufficient evidence of safety and effects in healthy humans.

For the above reasons, a number of strategies of getting involved with mind enhancement research are scalable opportunities for millions of $ of cost-effective funding to do good and improve the (long-term) future.

These include short-, medium- and long-term efforts :

Short-Term (6 months to 2years):

  • EA field building efforts for differential mind enhancement
  • an EA mind enhancement service

Medium-Term Development (2-10 years):

  • development and deployment of new (pharmaceutical) deployable mind enhancement interventions based on current almost deployable mind enhancement interventions

Medium to Long-Term Development (over 10 years):

  • R&D into experimental mind enhancement interventions
  • Policy: advocacy for drug policy reform & changing incentive structures around mind enhancement research

Possible Grants & Projects

Short-term (2 months to 2 years):

  • mind enhancement field building grants (e.g. mind enhancement retreat, mind enhancement conference)
  • literature research project listing effect sizes and safety of all dMEIs along with quality of evidence
  • in-depth investigation of mind enhancement that raises quality of life, allows ultimate bliss or extreme suffering alleviation in terms of intrinsic and instrumental importance, neglectedness, tractability
  • in-depth investigation (expert interviews, literature review) of current neuroscientific knowledge regarding feasibility and potential effect sizes of mind enhancement interventions
  • further investigation and modeling of effects of individual mind enhancement on group performance and potential non-linearities in group performance increase (e.g. through methods network sciences, microenomics)
  • further investigation into military and elite mind enhancement
  • in-depth investigation comparing pressingness of R&D across different means of mind enhancement (pharmacology, neurotech, genetic, behavioural)
  • in-depth investigation comparing pressingness of policy advocacy across different means of mind enhancement (pharmacology, neurotech, genetic, behavioural)

Medium- to long-term: (2-10 years)

  • setting up an institution tasked with evaluating and funding mind enhancement projects
  • clinical research to get adMEI currently lacking evidence of safety & effects in healthy humans to dMEI stage
  • fundamental neuroscience research to get eMEI currently in clinical trials to a dMEI stage faster
  • fundamental neuroscience research to develop new eMEI

APPENDICES

APPENDIX A - Shallow Literature Review: Neurobiological Tractability of Mind Enhancement

I have spent 5-20 hours reading literature relevant to mind enhancement generally.

For the purpose of evaluating the specific question of tractability of mind enhancement from a theoretical neuroscientific perspective I researched the following search terms regarding the subject on Google Scholar for ~1.5h. See section on neurobiological tractability for a discussion of the results.

Direct Findings from Google Scholar Research:

Process

I searched for the given term, looked at abstracts and summaries of all articles on the first search page whose titles indicated that they could be relevant regarding neurobiological tractability of ME. I summarized and quoted the relevant statements.

Results

  • “cognitive enhancement neuroscience”
    • The impact of neuroscience on society: cognitive enhancement in neuropsychiatric disorders and in healthy people” - Sahakian Barbara J. et al.:

“[MEI] have the potential to provide benefits in healthy people, although the extent and specificity (which intervention affects which function and is best applied in which situation) are still under investigation [...] Questions such as the safety of regular use in healthy people and, even more importantly, the potential effects on still-developing brains when used in healthy children and adolescents require more research.”


 

  • “Hacking the brain: Dimensions of cognitive enhancement” - Dresler et al.: 
    - lists important considerations regarding difficulties of conducting research into effects of MEI due to complicated nature of the mind
    - does not give any considerations regarding neurobiological tractability of mind enhancement per se 
    - empirically, some interventions enhance one but impair another domain such that enhancement may need to be done in a task-specific way


 

  • “The Mental Cost of Cognitive Enhancement” - Teresa Iuculano et al.:
    - empirically, cognitive enhancement in healthy adults through neurotechnological methods can occur at the expense of other cognitive functions


 

  • “Cognitive Enhancement” - Farah et. al (2013):
    - “There are surprisingly few generalizations about cognitive enhancement that can be stated with confidence at present. Published research demonstrates that medications and noninvasive brain stimulation can enhance certain cognitive abilities in normal healthy individuals, although the robustness of these effects—their true size, replicability, and generalizability to nonlaboratory conditions – is unknown. Also poorly understood at present are the possible negative consequences of these practices, from paradoxical impairment of performance in some to the potential for dependency and addiction.

     

At the same time, we know that some people are sufficiently convinced of the benefits of cognitive enhancement that they have become regular users. We have a sense of the scope of prescription stimulant use for cognitive enhancement in academia, but little beyond anecdotes and existence proofs where other populations and practices are concerned.”

 

  • “pharmacological cognitive enhancement”
    • “Non-pharmacological cognitive enhancement” - Dresler et al. (2013):

- “Surprisingly, not much data exist that would allow relative comparisons of the efficacy of different [possible techniques to change and enhance the mind]”

- “Comparative and differential research on the variety of currently existing cognitive enhancers is strongly needed to inform the bioethical debate.”


 

  • Physician Attitudes towards Pharmacological Cognitive Enhancement: Safety Concerns Are Paramount” - Opeyemi C. Banjo et al. (2010)
    - US and Canadian Physicians are skeptical regarding prescribing a hypothetical and known cognitive enhancers (modafinil, methylphenidate) to healthy adults due to perception of “issues of safety that were not offset by the benefit afforded the individual, even in the face of explicit safety claims”

- “many physicians indicated that they viewed safety claims with considerable skepticism”

- “physician attitudes suggest that greater weight be placed upon the balance between safety and benefit in consideration of pharmacological cognitive enhancement”


 

  • “moral enhancement neuroscience”
    • “Moral Enhancement Using Non-invasive Brain Stimulation” - Darby et al. (2017):

- “In conclusion, limited but growing evidence thus far suggests that brain stimulation can modulate specific cognitive-affective processes involved in moral behavior, making moral enhancement possible. [...]
However, rather than improving one single moral capacity, brain stimulation alters specific neuropsychological processes contributing to moral behavior. Enhancement of these processes can lead to morally enhanced behavior in some situations, but less morally desirable behavior in other circumstances. ” 


 

APPENDIX B - Overview of EA-adjacent organizations and initiatives relevant to mind enhancement

Thanks to Dr. Inga Grossmann for providing this overview. 

Many of these projects do not offer services yet but are in a testing or fundraising phase.

InitiativeDescriptionStatus
Mental health NavigatorThe Mental Health Navigator aims to boost EA community well-being by connecting EA community members with mental health resources as coaches, therapists, digital resources and Telecoaching/therapy. 
Effective Peer SupportProject to develop and validate an effective peer-support system to scale digital mental health and productivity interventions within EA about to start
[censored] the author has asked me to remove thisOffers mind and body enhancement via hormone intervention addressing disbalanceshas since gone offline
OffroadThe Offroad project has been working to both better understand, interface with, and treat Executive Dysfunction, and how to help EA college students struggling with it.  
Clearer ThinkingClearerThinking builds interactive tools and mini-courses that users can use to change your habits, make better decisions, and achieve their goals.established org by Spencer Greenberg
Effective Selfhelp

Effective Self-Help is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding and highlighting the most effective ways to improve your wellbeing (so far reports on productivity, sleep, behavior change, stress).


 

circa 1 year
Productivity FundNonlinear’s support program: Therapy as part of a care package for longtermists 
EA-aligned Coaches and TherapistsSome are focusing on wellbeing, some on productivity. There is a compensation program via private donors and one by infrastructure funding (no online resources found yet).in the making and testing
Mindfulness courses

4 x weekly 90 min online classes on executive function, mental health and physical health


 

new
Slack Group “Meditation Friends”~ 53 EAs. Coworking meditation retreats all over the worldinformal, is in place for some time
Facebook group “EA Peer Support”~ 600 EAs in  
EA Mental Health & nEArodivergent Support>90 EAs 




 

 

 

 

 

APPENDIX C - Overview of almost deployable mind enhancement interventions

This is an overview of indications that are relevant to mind enhancement purposes and a list of adMEI already approved for treating them in a way relevant to mind enhancement. This was compiled with the help of a friend of mine who is a medical doctor. 

Conditions relevant for mind enhancement (& their ICD codes)

  • Pervasive developmental disorders (F84)
  • Intellectual disabilities (F70-F79)
    • Mild intellectual disabilities (F70)
    • Moderate intellectual disabilities (F71)
    • Severe intellectual disabilities (F72)
    • Profound intellectual disabilities (F73)
    • Other intellectual disabilities (F78)
    • Unspecified intellectual disabilities (F79)
  • Residual schizophrenia (F20.5)
  • ADHS (F90)
  • Mental disorders due to known physiological conditions (F00-F09)
    • Vascular dementia (F01)
    • Dementia in other diseases classified elsewhere (F02)
    • Unspecified dementia (F03)
    • Amnestic disorder due to known physiological condition (F04)
    • Delirium due to known physiological condition (F05)
    • Other mental disorders due to known physiological condition (F06)
    • Personality and behavioral disorders due to known physiological condition (F07)
    • Unspecified mental disorder due to known physiological condition (F09)
  • Sequelae of cerebrovascular disease (I69)
  • Other symptoms and signs involving cognitive functions and awareness (R41)
    • Age-related cognitive decline (R41.81)
  • Extrapyramidal and movement disorders (G20-G26)
    • Parkinson disease (G20)
    • Secondary parkinsonismv (G21)
    • Other degenerative diseases of basal ganglia (G23)
    • Dystonia (G24)
    • Other extrapyramidal and movement disorders (G25)
    • Extrapyramidal and movement disorders in diseases classified elsewhere (G26)
  • Other degenerative diseases of the nervous system (G30-G32)
    • Alzheimers (G30)
    • Other degenerative diseases of nervous system, not elsewhere classified (G31)
    • Other degenerative disorders of nervous system in diseases classified elsewhere (G32)
  • Narcolepsy (G47)
  • Cognitive impairment due to intracranial or head injury (S06)

list of adMEI pharmaceuticals potentially relevant to mind enhancement

These are substances currently approved for treating above diseases that are directly relevant to cognition, excluding antidepressants:


 

Amantadine, Amisulpride, Amphetamine (incl. dexamphetamine, levoamphetamine) Aripiprazole. Armodafinil, Atomoxetine, Brexiprazole, Bupropion Carbidopa-levodopa, Clonidine, Desvenlaflaxine, Donepezil, Duloxetine, Entacapone, Folic acid, Galantamine, Gingko Biloba, Guanfacine, Istradefylline, Ketamine, Lisdexamphetamine, Memantine, Methamphetamine, Methylphenidate (incl. dexmethylphenidate), Modafinil, Opicapone, Piracetam, Pitolisant, Pramipexole, Rasagiline, Reboxetine, Rivastigmine, Ropinirole, Rotigotine, Safinamide, Selegiline, Sodium oxybate, Tacrine, Tolcapone, Venlafaxine, Viloxazine, Vortioxetine

Notes:

The above is a list of pharmaceuticals that might improve cognitive function in certain conditions and states. For the majority of these, it is currently unknown whether they improve cognitive function in healthy individuals.

  • The list above does not include drugs that are approved in non-US countries. A host of drugs approved in certain EU and non-EU countries are known to influence/improve cognitive function (e.g. milnacipran, moclobemide, tianeptine, bromatane).
  • The term “depressive pseudodementia” describes cognitive dysfunction associated with mood disorders. Thus, many drugs of the antidepressant class affect cognitive function and may lead to cognitive improvement in a variety of conditions. Likewise can anti-anxiety medications have procognitive effects.
  • Anti-epileptic drugs are known to have pro-cognitive effects in certain conditions (e.g. valproic acid).
  • Certain hormones (e.g. sex steroids, thyroid hormones) have pervasive effects on the nervous system and can therefore lead to a change/improvement in cognitive functions also in healthy individuals. These include testosterone and other androgens, estrogens, levothyroxine, triiodothyronine, metreleptin, oxytocin, vasopressin, growth hormone, IGF1, melatonin, and allopregnanolone. Even though they all affect cognitive function in healthy and diseased individuals alike, none of these is approved to specifically treat cognitive dysfunction,
  • Cognitive dysfunction is often a symptom of inflammatory disorders. Therefore, anti-inflammatory drugs can have pro-cognitive effects in certain conditions (e.g. dexibuprofen, statins).
  • Cognitive dysfunction can be a symptom of metabolic disorders. Therefore, drugs that affect nutrient partitioning and metabolism can have pro-cognitive effects in certain conditions (e.g. SGLT2-inhibitors, metformin).
  • There is a large number of molecules, which might have procognitive effects, in pharmaceutical pipelines and/or in development. Whether some of these have procognitive effects in healthy individuals is currently unexplored (e.g. ampakines, diclofensine, tesofensine, dasotraline, mazindole, amitifadine, ansofaxine, apimostinel, rapastinel).
  • Some drugs known to have procognitive effects were withdrawn from the market due to a variety of conditions (e.g. nomifensine, amineptine).
  • Some molecules with potentially procognitive effects were discontinued during development (e.g. tametraline).
  • Procognitive effects were reported for a variety of herbal and non-herbal supplements, though the quality of evidence is low (e.g. bacopa monnieri, ashwaghanda, rhodiola rosea, green tea extract, astralagus, turmeric, ginseng).
  • Some molecules are known to have neurotropic effects, which therefore might have procognitive effects. Some of these are currently being investigated for a variety of conditions (e.g. lysergic acid diethylamide, psylocibin, arketamine).
  • Given that physical exercise and sleep are widely known to improve cognitive function, drugs that improve (e.g. caffeine) or mimic (e.g. PPARd-agonists) exercise or improve sleep quality (e.g. ramelteon, orexin-antagonists) might have indirect pro-cognitive effects.

Appendix D - Fermi estimate of potential importance of mind enhancement in terms of existential risk

Process


 

This is the model I used to model existential risk reduction over a timeline with and without differential mind enhancement (ME).


 

Parameters

  • timeline (AI timeline in years)
  • efforts at x-risk reduction (absolute decrease in % existential risk per year)
  • P of being too stupid (probability that we can not solve existential risk due to not being intelligent enough)
  • extent to which ME can decrease this (absolute reduction of above probability due to mind enhancement)
  • instrumental boost of ME (multiplier of efforts at x-risk reduction due to mind enhancement)

Model

I model absolute decrease in existential risk without mind enhancement as:

  • AI timeline (in years) * efforts at x-risk reduction (in % per year) * (1 - probability of being too stupid )

I model absolute decrease in existential risk with mind enhancement identical to the formula above with two additions:

  • AI timeline (in years) * efforts at x-risk reduction (in % per year) * 
    instrumental boost of ME (coefficient)
    (1 - ( probability of being too stupid - extent to which ME can decrease this) )


 

In this way, I try to estimate the impact of mind enhancement reducing the chance of us being not intelligent enough to solve existential risk and the general boost that differential mind enhancement could provide to our efforts of doing good.


 

Results

Here is a screenshot of a few different scenarios that I computed using the above rough fermi estimate. You can access the original computation here. Please refer to the section on importance for a discussion of the implications of the results.


 



 

  1. ^

    “Additional empirical data about pharmacological cognitive enhancers is needed. However, in relation to existing research funding, data for these drugs is of little interest to disease-oriented and basic science funders and is also of little incentive for the pharmaceutical industry because present regulations promote research exclusively about disorders or disease.” (from "Pharmacological cognitive enhancement: treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders and lifestyle use by healthy people”) 

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Here you can find the list of initiatives that aim to offer psychological support to EAs: Feel free to add more initiatives if you know of any other, so we can better collaborate.

In the context of EA, it makes sense to think about mind enhancement effects in terms of improving an agent’s Benevolence, Intelligence & Power (inspired by Rethink Priorities’ Framework, see their post for more on this)

Minor, but this was written by MichaelA back when he was working at Convergence Analysis, based on ideas between him and  JustinShovelain. 

One tail risk from mind enhancement I’d like to point out is that it could produce superintelligent humans, who could pretty much pose all of the same risks that a superintelligent AI could.

[+][comment deleted]2mo 2