Will Cognitive Enhancers Soon Become Necessary Work Steroids?


Many ordinary people from video gamers, students and neuroscientists to entrepreneurs, classical musicians, and public servants are using stimulants in the absence of solid evidence about safety, recounts an article in The Conversation. So what might the repercussions for our competitive society look like if we develop a cognitive-enhancer drug that actually works over the long term?

“Here’s our thinking,” the authors write. “Imagine that in time we develop cognitive enhancement methods that are given the tick of clinical approval by the requisite number of citizens in white lab coats. Presumably ordinary people would then start using them because they can. Suddenly it’s possible to pop a pill and blitz calculus. Or perk up while transplanting someone’s heart and lungs, or while flying people across the Atlantic. But here’s the catch. While cognitive enhancement might feel like a free choice at the start, once everyone round town is doing it, an insidious form of social coercion sets in. Just as the use of beta blockers has become widespread in the classical music scene, so too cognitive enhancement threatens to become a new ‘normal’, a de facto standard that pressures everyone to bio-hack their brains to keep up. Obviously we can’t divine the future. But predicting the social side effects that safe, effective, and inexpensive cognitive enhancers are likely to have in competitive societies like ours seems like a no-brainer. Our bet is that it will result in an even more work-obsessed culture, and even less time than we currently have for other pursuits that enhance human life. Remember those predictions from the 1980s about how in the future we would all be working 15-hour weeks thanks to gains in efficiency afforded by technological advances?”

The rise of cognitive enhancers is a mass social experiment (The Conversation, June 15, 2015)