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Viagra for the brain
Are 'smart' drugs any good to us?
Written whilst travelling from Hatfield to London and then to Ipswich by train. Despatched to via an intermediate station-based wi-fi service.

Here we are at the start of the 21st century, generating more information and data than we can cope with, placing increasing emphasis on education and academic attainment, whilst simultaneously diluting the education experience through political interference.

So what are students now looking to for enhanced performance, how are they coping, and how are they squeezing more out of the system? It seems that mind-enhancing drugs are all the rage. Yep, just pop a pill to see an immediate improvement in IQ and memory capacity. No problem, just do it!

So far it seems that this practice is confined to the US but it will surely spread, just like everything else. Hey, if it gets results, students are getting top grades, moving on to the Ivy League, achieving their ambition, winning, why not?

Hmm, didn't this all happen in sport a few decades back? So are we going to see pre-exam drug tests sorting the students into two classes? Will we see students sitting two types of exams - with and without Viagra for the brain?

This is going to get really complex, really silly and probably really risky. I have yet to see a drug without some side effects in the short and long term. Seems to me that if you start on this tack you have no option but to continue. There you are, master of the universe one moment and normal the next. Recruited out of the Ivy League by an employer one day for your stellar potential, and a mediocre member of the team the next. Whoops!

Now for the real bummer. Apparently a lot of the drugs are bootlegged - i.e. of dubious origin - and are being consumed by around 50 per cent of the student population in some colleges. I don't know about you but I am really careful about what goes into my body. I came through the '70s and saw first hand what drug abuse and bootleg supplies can do.

Whilst I can fully appreciate the need to win, the pressure of competition and the desire to get a good job, nothing justifies risking our basic health and fitness. In my view the basic education system needs restoring. It certainly needs to be rescued from political meddling and the intellectual bar needs to be raised. 'Viagra for the brain' may make you sharp, enhance your memory, keep you focused and dedicated but it will do little to enhance fundamental understanding of anything.

This to me is the crux! People who can remember and recall information are useful but people who can reason and solve problems are far more powerful and more highly valued. Today we have increasing supplies of the former and a rapidly diluting supply of the latter.

In a world of increasing complexity, where our dependence on technology and its use is growing, we really do need people with clear insights and thinking - and it is unlikely that drug enhancements on a long-term basis will do the trick. Moreover, we have an unclear picture of the future for the drug enhanced.

If I could live my life again it would, of course, be entirely different. I would immediately leverage the power of today's technology to my advantage in terms of achieving higher levels of understanding of the fundamentals across the board. I would create my own world devoid of the artificial silos in science and education. There would be no physics, chemistry, biology - there would be just science. There would be no ITC, nanotech, control, robotics - there would be just technology and engineering.

As far as I can see such a world is possible by using our technology wisely but only time will tell if that includes drug enhancement too.