"The miracle pill: What do brain boosting drugs mean for the future?" - Next Big Thing

Past Event

13 March 2013, 7:30pm - 8:45pm

1 Plough Place, London, EC4A 1DE

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This London-based event is a collaboration between the Oxford Martin School, Policy Exchange
and Nesta

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 will ask:

  • 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?


  • Dr Bennett Foddy, Deputy Director, Institute for Science and Ethics, Oxford Martin School
  • Dr Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning, Wellcome Trust
  • Dr Anders Sandberg, James Martin Fellow, Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology
  • Dr James Wilson, Lecturer in Philosophy and Health, University College London

Chair: Louise Marston, Head of Innovation and Economic Growth, Nesta

Join in on Twitter - #nextbigthing

For more information and booking a seat, please visit www.eventbrite.com/event/5438464594