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21st Century Intelligence

19th May 2014

Intelligence is the product of effective cognitive systems in our brain. For this article intelligence is associated to mind and cognition to brain. Our brains have evolved through its interaction and manipulation of our surrounding environment, this has meant a long history of learning and problem solving. This process seems to be a continuum; the more we learn and the better we become at solving problems, the more complex and ambiguous the problems become. For example, first we learned how to hunt and gather crops, then starting with the Egyptians we learned to become thinkers, followed by industrialists, and now we are heading towards an era of technological sophistication. In this era we will learn how to further impact and manipulate our surroundings, however this is also leading to problems that we have never seen before. We are faced with increasingly big, complex and even moral problems. In healthcare, we will need to solve how to efficiently care for large populations and an increasingly diversity of diseases. In sustainability we will need to solve how to negotiate the relocation of entire island countries which are disappearing due to rising sea levels. In business, we are experiencing the collapse of an economic system, which will need replacing. As we just exposed, every sector is being confronted by change. This change is an anthropological pivot, we are at the start of a new era analogous to the industrial revolution. This new era will lead us to experience a cognitive evolution and we will need to redefine intelligence, not as an academic concept, but as the ability to adapt quickly to change.

Intelligence in the 21st Century will be defined by our cognitive flexibility rather than the ability to follow patterned thought. In the 20th Century we valued hard skills, which made the workforce obedient and able to solve problems which presented a known pattern, all we had to do was follow instructions well to succeed. As we already mentioned the problems of the 21st century need more than the ability to follow instructions. One of the main traits in cognitive flexibility is the ability to adapt, change, and manipulate salient stimuli. In other words, those of us who are able to effectively adapt the unexpected will be better poised to innovate and move forward. This cognition will value an intelligence, which is beyond academic achievement. It will learn to embrace change not fear it, be more empathetic, have a wider scope of field rather than being single minded, it will allow for polymaths rather than specialists, and it will be based on a strong questioning process rather than a focusing on answers.

Technology is opening new horizons and understanding to the inner workings of the brain. Understanding how the brain works and how we think is the start of creating new cognitive tools. One thing is to know that a Ferrari goes fast, another is to know why. The ability to create new tools has always been a measure of our intelligence. Effective tools has always allowed primates to survive and impact our environment. This era will be no different, but we need to start the change now.