Dumber than Darwin: Research shows human intelligence is falling since the 19th century

Given developments in artificial intelligence many fear robots will soon surpass human intelligence, rendering human beings superfluous. One comfort for humans has been that at least we are smarter than our ancestors. Turns out even this could be false comfort. Research led by Michael Woodley from the Free University in Brussels has shown that our mental abilities have undergone significant decline since the Victorian era. No wonder Victorian sleuth Sherlock Holmes is still considered the acme of detective skill, and TV serials trying to transplant him into contemporary London or Manhattan are all the rage. Darwin’s theory of natural selection has been proffered as an explanation: post-Victorian advances in medicine and nutrition meant that people with lower IQs could also have more children who survived into adulthood. This is usually celebrated as emphatic proof of civilisation, as is our current drive towards automation which will allegedly make greater convenience and leisure available to humanity. But Woodley et al force us to think about what it means if genes driving intelligence are becoming less common. Aren’t worrying signs all around us? It’s not just that computers already tell healthcare providers what drugs to prescribe and absolutely nail Super Mario. It’s also the…

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