Jun 292009

Idiocracy is about a possible future world that is the result of the stupid having many more children than the smart, leading to an impossibly stupid population. Starring Luke Wilson, this black comedy is hilarious. More info at wiki page. Luke Wilson gets frozen as part of a military experiment but wakes up five hundred years later completely surrounded by completely idiotic people. But could it happen?

This XKCD comic promoted this post:

While the logic (smarter people have fewer kids thus they’ll just die out in the face of larger numbers of dumb people) seems to hold, I don’t think it could happen for these reasons:

1. Smarter people tend to live longer, and their kids have a higher liklihood of surviving. They are also more likely to be successful breeders. Dumb men, especially, don’t successfully mate much.

2. This line of reasoning ignores the Flynn Effect. The Flynn Effect is a gradual trend that people are getting smarter (or they are becoming more generally “scientific”). A 100 on an IQ test (the “average” population IQ) is actually a 107 fifteen years ago. Some more interesting research is that this effect holds more strongly towards the lower end of the IQ range, that is the dumb people get smart but the smart people don’t improve by much.

3. The world is getting more complicated and if intelligence has to do with the ability to handle cognitive complexity, then I’d say we’re getting smarter. Just look at an tv show like I Love Lucy vs today’s shows. Today’s 23 minute sitcoms will have three interwoven story lines that rapidly switch from one or the other, while I Love Lucy has barely one storyline.

The data seems to point at a future where everyone will be so insanely smart that the “dumb” elements of the future will likely be smarter than the “smart” ones of today. That’s a scary thought.

Note: I do not use the terms dumb/smart as pejoratives, simply as descripters of IQ stats. Dumb being under 100 by half a standard deviation (92.5ish) and smart being above 100 by half a standard dev (107.5ish).

  4 Responses to “Idiocracy: Could it Happen?”

  1. I like the post. On an interesting note about 3)

    I find it hard to believe that people will be insanely clever in the future, I think we will gradually gain less intelligence over time, depending on external factors.

    Like, back in the caveman era, we had a lot to learn, but our methods werent great for picking up knowledge. When we developed language etc… there was probably an increase there, and now our technology has been on the increase over the last 50 years par se, there may be a fluctuation there too. But I don’t think were always gaining the same amount of intelligence, anyway.

  2. Hmm, you make a good point. Reminds me of something my cognitive science professor once said: we may be as intelligent as a complex organism of our design can be without going insane. Any more intelligent or complex and we reach the ceiling. Well, we’ll see what the future holds.

  3. Smarter men might get more play, but they’re also more likely to take the steps needed to avoid children. Studies demonstrate that iq and fertility are negatively correlated. One of the premises of the movie, that dumb people have way more children, is sound.

  4. Designer babies are soon going to be possible so we can to some extent increase intelligence artificially.

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