In the year 2020 A.D. , the inhabitants of earth are visited by a not-so-friendly race of techno-pathic AI aliens ,numbering about 500,000, and originating from a type 2 ¾ civilization from a galaxy far, far away. They left their old dwelling to see if they could create a new civilization from ( almost¹ ) scratch as a form of mass entertainment, think reality TV. Just much more violent and real.

They arrive on earth and handily take it over in one week. To make the whole "challenge" especially challenging for them, they level every city on earth with a population over 8,000 (or over 9,000 for you anime watchers), and blow up every major university. This way, they cannot employ the help of pesky Homo sapiens sapiens, although it is not as if they will need it, as their intelligence utterly dwarfs our own.

They then send out swarms of grey goo, which disables all human electronics, after that they begin their contest. But before they finished their destruction, an intrepid young billionaire gathers a sizable population (about 500 males & 4,500 females) and stows them away in a stolen government bunker city. He also gathers all of the leading scientists, hackers, and doctors the world over, and stows them way too. He takes his, 15 exabyte flash drive, downloads the internet, the U.S., Russian, and the E.U.'s intelligence databases, and finally, he takes a random assortment of thing he thinks he'll need.

To the intellectuals, he proposes an idea - create a device to biologically augment their intelligence by adding an additional 1 trillion neurons of grey matter to their brains, and altering their physiologies to allow them to better support a brain of that energy consumption ( metabolically speaking ) so that they can out-compete their oppressors.

They do this, and design exoskeletons to support their bodies.

The Question is : would such an augmentation actually improve their intelligence if they added the grey matter to the right areas of the brain? And if so, would it augment them enough so that they could compete² to any extent whatsoever with AI systems with analogous intelligent gaps between that of Humans and rats? (the AI being the the humans in the analogy)

1: They bring tech equivalent to military technology 2000 years into the future at humanity's current pace of technological advancement, excluding any unforeseen disasters

2: All living things previously on earth automatically qualify as contestants

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    $\begingroup$ Pedantic note: I think you'd need a bit more than an Exabyte to store the internet. These guys put the estimate at 200 TB / 0.004% = 5 EB. To be fair, like 90% of that is cat videos, so 1 EB might be fine. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelS
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 7:20
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    $\begingroup$ Less pedantic note: it would help if we knew a lot more about this contest. How many aliens are there? If we murder them all, is that fair game or will the aliens in space drive us back to make the games more entertaining for their viewers? What kind of technology do the contestants still have? Realistically, intellect is irrelevant if we can just swarm them and throw rocks at their super-smart heads because they don't have all their super-tech with them any more. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelS
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 7:24
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelS Thank you the pedantic and less pedantic notes, you saved my question from being closed :) $\endgroup$
    – user15036
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 8:13
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    $\begingroup$ I think you are dramatically overestimating the effectiveness of an electromagnetic pulse in disabling electronics. While lots of electronics will certainly be fried, there will remain tons of hardened electronics that has been accidentally or specifically designed to survive the effects of an EMP. Plus, unless you set off multiple high-orbit detonations simultaneously (see also How many photographs are there of the whole Earth? on Space Exploration) at least half the Earth will be blocked from the EMP by... the Earth. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 8:28
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelS , it'll take a couple o' weeks to develop the gray matter device, but several years to filter through the cat videos $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 12:47

4 Answers 4



A trillion neurons properly added to a human brain would give us very good tactical and analytical abilities, but likely wouldn't be enough to compete in real-time with advanced AI due to latency issues. However, it should give us a pretty good boost in the research and development department, which will allows us to reverse-engineer the alien technology and physiology to create supersoldiers and our own battle robots.

Google indicates only about half the world population lives in urban areas0, so after the purge, we've still got about three billion humans. That's a 6000:1 advantage over the aliens. If we can stand up production lines in several areas around the world and pump out supersoldiers before the aliens realize what we're up to, we might stand a fighting chance.

Humans are Slow

If it's just a matter of combat ability, intellect isn't really that important. It's a lot more about speed and strength. If the AI thinks on micro-to-millisecond terms, it's highly unlikely we could ever compete with them just by growing bigger brains. In fact, we might do better to grow smaller brains.

The problem is human reactions times are between 100 ms and 500+ ms for really easy tests (like, press the button when a giant horn turns on in your ear)1, and upwards of 1000 ms (a full second) to make cognitive decisions that require motor control (like, a cop decides the bad guy is attacking, then draws his gun and fires)2.

The cause of this is three-fold. First, synapses and neurons are terribly slow compared to electronics. Signals travel around a hundred meters per second in organics3, compared to a quarter of a billion meters per second in electronics4; and the switching time of a neuron is around a millisecond5, compared to nanoseconds for electronic gates (and plausibly much faster for atomic or quantum computers)6.

Second, we have really big brains and bodies, so it takes a long time for the signal to propagate all the way through our brains, then a really long time for the signal to get to our muscles. The signal goes through millions of parallel paths, so the total information processed isn't terrible, but the latency is huge.

Third, we're too smart. We don't just think in terms of "bad guy, best way to kill, execute". Instead, we think "shiny metal thing, reminds me of that movie when I was eight, probably a bad guy, I think that gun is going to kill me but it looks pretty awesome, man I hope I don't poop myself because that girl back at camp might not go out with me if I come back with poop running down my leg, I should probably run now". We can train our brains to bypass most of the extraneous crap during combat, but it's always leeching a little processing power away. Plus, having that capacity requires our brains to be larger, which leads back to the second issue.

Insects can have reaction times as low as 5-10 ms7, because their tiny, simple brains do a few things really well, instead of our brains that do a lot of things decently.

On the other hand, if we're just bigger, stronger, and outnumber them ten thousand to one, it would just be a matter of attrition. Even if they're quick enough to dodge our attacks for a little while, they'll eventually get tired. Then we destroy them. It's how we've been hunting animals for millennia, if not longer.8

Humans may be Weak

I don't know anything about your aliens, but if they're made of impenetrable unobtainium and hit with the force of Thor's hammer, speed won't really help much. If they can invent toxic gases to destroy the planet before we've cracked the first alien's exoskeleton, we're kind of screwed.

From your edit, it seems like their military tech would likely put them pretty close to this scenario, even if the aliens themselves are relatively squishy. So a head-on assault would likely be met with brutal defeat, even if we had the reaction times of a cockroach and the strength of a whale.

Enter Supercomputers

More neurons in the right places could potentially give us much better capacity for pattern recognition, predictive capabilities, behavioral analysis of the alien invaders, and other cool things that could help us with large-scale tactics, although we still need the capacity to actually hurt them.

One of the better uses of enhanced cognitive abilities would be reverse-engineering alien tech, or even reprogramming a bunch of the aliens to fight on our side. Once we have enough tech to punch through whatever armor they have, and withstand an onslaught from their weaponry, then we stand a fighting chance.

On the other hand, if we have the technology to turn humans into walking supercomputers, we could probably build a staggeringly powerful actual supercomputer and just let it do the analysis. Maybe plug one or two fairly typical humans into the supercomputer to nudge it in the right direction from time to time.

A more useful method might be to combine the two ideas. Build a supercomputer with a few humans permanently plugged in as interfaces and controllers. It's rather barbaric, but given the fate of our species is on the line, it's probably justifiable.

Enter Supersoldiers

Depending on the aliens' speed and strength, we may need a combination of thinking faster and all that alien tech to beat them in face-to-face combat. In this case, we'd want to modify our soldiers' neural circuitry so all their combat algorithms are running on something similar to the alien AI circuitry. We could modify the other algorithms (or remove them entirely), but as long as they can react quickly to changes on the battlefield, they'll be competitive, and removing their human natures might have unexpected consequences.

We'll also want to build vehicles. Tanks and aircraft can do enormous amounts of damage compared to a normal human. Of course, we need alien-tech-infused tanks and aircraft. Then we'll need to build super-pilots to drive and fly them. Better yet, we could just build them straight into the vehicle to give them the best possible response times, like KITT from Knight Rider, or the Cylon Raiders from new BSG.



Would such an augmentation actually improve their intelligence if they added the grey matter to the right areas of the brain?

Research have found a correlation between brains size and intelligence that range between 0.0-0.6, but correlation and causation is not the same thing. Other factors such as age (possibly neuroplasticity), and the distribution of brain mass ("the right areas") have been put forward as more important factors.

There is documented procedures that closes of part of the brain, and cases where trauma removed part of the brain, which could serve as justification for the procedure itself being recoverable. The lesson seem to be that brains with high neuroplasticity can recover and reroute better, so the intellectuals probably should focus on younger individuals first and try to keep the added matter as "adaptable" as possible. In the case of procedures that closes of part of the brain to prevent seizures, follow up indicates little change in cognitive functions, and sometimes even improvement because the lack of seizures, so once again it seems that the right place is the key.

Tl;dr Finding the "right areas of the brain" and the quality of the added matter is probably more important than how much more matter the intellectuals can cram into their skulls (or exoskeletons), but if they succeed they would increase their cognitive functions.


There's a lot of plausible theories saying that what controls intelligence isn't so much the number of neurons as how well connected they are with each other. You also have issues of making sure that the new neurons are connected into the right part of the brain to be useful. For example increasing the processing of incoming smells might be interesting, but is unlikely to win a war.

You would most likely get better results through cybernetics - human-computer interfaces similar to things that we are already starting to develop. This would allow you to use electronics for things that machines are good at (perfect recall, lightning fast mathematical calculations, enhanced reflexes, etc) but keep the human neurons to provide the "fuzzy" logic they are good at.

Imagine a normal intelligent but not super-human scientist wired directly into a computer. Any calculation he thinks of he immediately knows the answer. Any search he thinks of immediately gets executed, etc. That fusion of different but complimentary abilities could lead to very rapid advances.


You are considering increasing brain size 10 times. That would make humans and rats seem to be of nearly similar intelligence compared to your new superhuman. Note that it would take you 25 years for all those superhumans to grow from fetus to PhD. (And you'd want them to be even smarter than regular PhD, consider adding more eyes and hands and ears to pump more knowledge in them fast!)

However it would not help against AI much, since if we assume that number of neurons in a chip doubles every 4 years, it would take less than 20 years to actually improve chips to match your superhumans.


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