If you could take a drug to boost your brain-power, would you? Drugs to enhance human performance are nothing new. Long-haul lorry drivers and aircraft pilots are known to pop amphetamines to stay alert, and university students down caffeine tablets to ward off drowsiness during all-nighters. But these stimulants work by revving up the entire nervous system and the effect is only temporary.
Arguments over smart drugs are raging. If a drug can improve an individual's performance, and they do not experience side-effects, some argue, it cannot be such a bad thing. But where will it all stop? Ambitious parents may start giving mind-enhancing pills to their children. People go to all sorts of lengths to gain an educational advantage and eventually success might be dependent on access to these mind-improving drugs. No major studies have been conducted on the long-term effects. Some neuroscientists fear that, over time, these memory-enhancing pills may end up causing people to store too much detail, cluttering the brain.
This event asked:
- What are the limits to performance enhancement drugs, both scientifically and ethically? And who decides?
- Is there a role for such pills in developing countries, where an extra mental boost might make a distinct difference to those in developing countries?
- Does there need to be a global agreement to monitor the development of these pills?
- Should policymakers give drug companies carte blanche to develop these products or is a stricter regulatory regime required?
CHAIR: Louise Marston, Head of Innovation and Economic Growth, Nesta
Dr Bennett Foddy, Deputy Director and Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Science and Ethics, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford
Dr Anders Sandberg, James Martin Fellow, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford.
Dr Hilary Leevers, Head of Education & Learning, the Wellcome Trust
This event formed part of the Next Big Thing events series. For more information about the series, please visit www.policyexchange.org.uk/next-big-thing