GUEST AUTHOR ARCHIVES
October 31, 2003
Halloween turns millions of kids (and some adults) into candy-loving monsters with more than ample supply of candy to satisfy their "sweet tooth." Now, HHMI researchers have moved closer to understanding why some people cannot resist the impulses brought on by sweets.
The findings, reported in today's issue of the journal Cell details how the researchers created mice with the same sweet-tooth preferences as humans by inserting the gene that codes for a human sweet-taste receptor protein into the animals. They also inserted an entirely different receptor gene into the taste cells of mice, thereby producing animals that perceive a previously tasteless molecule as sweet.
This research is a wonderful step in the development of flavorceuticals, a type of sensoceutical focused on our sense of taste. Now just imagine if we can get them to figure out how to make all those yucky foods taste sweet.
Happy Halloween! Casey and I are going together as Sydney Bristow and Michael Vaughn from Alias.
| Category: Neuropharma
October 30, 2003
Few social thinkers have richly described the future as well as Daniel Bell who in 1973 wrote The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society: A Venture into Social Forecasting. As todays Henry Ford professor of Sociology at Harvard University, Bells work is not only inspiring, but also shows that thoughtful qualitative analysis can prove very illuminating when trying to peer into the unknown future.
Unlike Bell, who resisted the urge to define this new era, hence the name Post-Industrial rather than Information Age or Knowledge Era, I found it very necessary to coin the term "neurosociety" which could act as reference point to help orient discussions about our common future.
Some aspects of a neurosociety include:
1. Pervasive use of neuroceuticals
2. Neurocompetitive advantage as best practice
3. New sectors like: neuroceuticals, neuroeducation and biotainment
| Category: Neurosociety
October 29, 2003
In Second that Emotion, economic commentator James Glassman discusses how several mutual funds are using techniques pioneered by behavioral economists to help take into account emotions in financial markets.
Behavioral economists have shown that, under some circumstances, people aren't rational actors in their economic decision-making; they are influenced heavily by their emotions. So as Glassman put it, "How do you fight emotional, irrational responses to financial stimuli?"
One answer he gives is "mean reversion." But with emerging neurotechnology the answer could be quite different. For instance, traders could be given emotional forecasting feedback and neuroceutical tools to adjust their perception of future events.
Here is a simplistic thought experiment on how neurotechnology might play a role:
1. Reduce overestimation with real-time impact bias feedback: The gap between what we predict and what we ultimately experience is the ''impact bias'' -- ''impact'' meaning the errors we make in estimating both the intensity and duration of our emotions and ''bias'' our tendency to err.
To predict correctly how they will feel about their decision some time after it occurs, people need to know: the acceleration of their initial emotional reaction, the peak level of intensity of their reaction and the rate of deceleration. People almost always overestimate the rate of acceleration, overestimate the peak level of intensity and underestimate the rate of deceleration of the pleasure that their decisions gave them.
As George Lowenstein, an expert in emotional forecasting points out, ''If you had a deep understanding of the impact bias and you acted on it...you would tend to invest your resources in the things that would make you happy." In short, financial traders would perhaps make decisions that were more in-line with longer-term satisfaction and financial returns.
2. Reduce empathy gap by stabilizing emotional states: The "empathy gap" is the difference between how we behave in "hot'' states (those of anxiety, courage, fear, and the like) and ''cold'' states of rational calm. Our empathy gap impacts our thoughts and behaviors to the point where we cannot seem to predict how we will behave in a hot state when we are in a cold state.
Emoticeuticals that would be triggered when a trader was in a particular "hot" state that could remind them of the consequences of making a trade when they are in a particular state. The baseline for the trigger might be a complex of multiple "hot" states that the trader would determine was most appropriate for them based on their trading history and when they have made poor decisions.
Clearly the above example is simplistic. It is a thought experiment on how financial trading might be impacted by neurotechnology. More to follow.
| Category: Neurofinance
October 28, 2003
As neurotechnology advances and brain imaging technology becomes more precise, all aspects of business, including the art of marketing, will be reinvented.
This week's NYTimes Magazine article There's a Sucker Born in Every Medial Prefrontal Cortex highlights how one neuromarketing firm, BrightHouse, is pushing the boundaries of understanding how and why people buy different products. As the article explains, "marketers in the United States spent more than $1 billion last year on focus groups, the results of which guided about $120 billion in advertising. But focus groups are plagued by a basic flaw of human psychology: people often do not know their own minds."
Neuromarketing has a long road to travel though as neuroeconomist Kevin McCabe wisely suggests, "While the first step is to look for reward processing in the brain, it is not the last step since demand itself is an emergent mental construct involving cognition, emotion, and motivation."
Moreover, neuromarketing has some interesting philosophical and ethical implications that will surely emerge as more light is shined on this emerging discipline. But with billions of dollars at stake, the search will surely continue as businesses search for the brain's buy button.
So which do you really want, Coke or Pepsi?
| Category: Neuromarketing
October 27, 2003
BusinessPundit, recently highlighted in Business and the Tragic View of Human Nature that:
"The field of management has a long way to go...a better understanding of human nature (via neuroscience) will allow us to better target management tactics for specific situations, industries, and most importantly, individuals...Good managers are masters of situationalism (if that's a word). They can tailor their tone, attitude, strategies, tactics, etc. to the needs of the individual situation. I think in the future, management will move from being more of an art to being more of a science. In my opinion, management is still in its infancy."
I agree with Rob's assessment, and would add that the tools management will use to help them achieve their objectives will come via neurotechnology. Indeed, improving competitive performance via neuroceuticals will accelerate many aspects team performance by improving individual emotional stability and cognitive clarity. But the effects will go far beyond this: to the nature and shape of the firm.
By radically reducing the spatial transaction cost of finding and sharing knowledge, information technology has played an important role in flattening organizations down from their hierarchical, industrial predecessors.
Neurotechnology will also impact the "typical organization" of the firm in its own unique ways. As we learn more about the neurobiology of trust, how people make decisions, and the many other components of human social interaction that go into everything from contract development to dispute resolution, the emotional transaction cost of doing business will drop precipitously. In my research, I have come to believe that we will see a further flattening of organizational structures and the emergence of real heterarchies.
What do you think?
(Thanks to the Carnival of the Capitalists for bringing this to my attention.)
| Category: Neuroeconomics
October 24, 2003
| Category: Neuropolicy
October 23, 2003
Derek Lowe recently posted a very good explanation of the presumed mode of action of the new Alzheimers drug memantine.
Memantine has some affinity for a wide range of receptors in the brain, but at the doses that are seen therapeutically, the relevant interactions seems to be with the NMDA receptor....The weird thing is, memantine is an antagonist; it blocks NMDA signaling. So at high doses, it actually interferes with memory....At clinical doses, the compound does play against type and seem to improve memory. The best guess for how this works is through a mechanism for neuronal injury in Alzheimer's. Too frequent (and too prolonged) firing of excitatory pathways like NMDA have long been associated with cellular damage in the brain, and this seems to be going on in AD as well...
There is some evidence that neurons with NMDA receptors are lost in AD, but its hard to explain the improvement in cognitive performance of some patients if you are merely stopping or slowing damage. Also memantine has been shown to have a short term effect on memory and memory related cellular plasticity. Why not consider this evidence that memantine is working through a more subtle mechanism than preventing excitotoxicity?
NMDA is believed to function in learning by giving a neuron memory of previous activity. Since we have to be picky about which memories are stored and which can be forgotten, NMDA is thought to be a sort of memory bouncer determining whether the stimulus is strong enough to be laid down permanently, or whether you really dont need to remember where you left your keys.
So a reasonable theory would be that in Alzheimers, NMDA is underactive and is not letting in any new memories. But the efficacy (though slight) of memantine suggests that maybe NMDA is overactive, letting in any memory at all and promoting the cellular changes that allow memories to be stored at random. Without any barrier for memory formation, perhaps a neuron cant distinguish between important and unimportant events, so it appears that nothing is stored, when really everything is stored and each event instantly erases the last event. Memantine can reduce the activity of NMDA and restore its selectivity for the right memories.
Complicated explanations may not suit a pharmaceutical company, but understanding the true therapeutic nature of current pharmaceuticals will be an important part of future neuroceutical development. For example, SSRI's like Prozac take several weeks to be effective, but for years pharma claimed that the anitdepressant effect was due to a short term reduction in serotonin reuptake. The fact is we still don't know why SSRI's have the effect they do.
| Category: Cogniceuticals | Neuropharma
October 22, 2003
As explorers mapped our planet from 1500-2000, there was a period of several hundred years when the maps that detailed our geographic understanding of the Earth's landscape were wrong.
Take the case of California. Around the year 1500, California made its appearance as a fictional island. In 1622, California was confirmed to be an island. It stayed that way on most maps across all cultures for at least another 100 years. (Here is another map.)
The realization that California is not an island provides a glimpse of how our history has unfolded and our future will be shaped. Thanks Glen.
| Category: Economic Geography
October 21, 2003
If the last decade of the information technology wave was focused on creating a global information web, then the ten years will be about refining this endless information sea into a usable, reliable knowledge web.
Socialtext, an enterprise social software company, launched its first set of products today that help teams collaborate and communicate more effectively. As Joi Ito mentioned in a recent Fortune article, "I need to get fewer requests from higher-quality sources."
Disclosure: I have been on Socialtext's Board of Advisors since it's inception. Having started software companies myself, I am amazed at the insight and execution capabilities of this very dedicated team. Congratulations!
| Category: Writing & Blogging
October 20, 2003
Last week the President's Council on Bioethics released "Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, a 300 page report containing the following chapters:
1. Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness
2. Better Children
3. Superior Performance
4. Ageless Bodies
5. Happy Souls
6. "Beyond Therapy": General Reflections
Here are a few excerpts from chairman Leon R. Kass' editorial in the Washington Post introducing the report:
"By all accounts, we are entering the golden age of biotechnology. Advances in genetics, drug discovery and regenerative medicine promise cures for dreaded diseases and relief for terrible suffering. Advances in neuroscience and psychopharmacology promise better treatments for the mentally ill."
"For the past 16 months, the President's Council on Bioethics has explored the ethical and social meanings of using biotechnologies for purposes "beyond therapy." Our report, released today, tries to show what is increasingly at stake when biotechnology meets the pursuit of happiness. Lacking prophetic powers, no one can say for certain what life in the age of biotechnology holds in store. Most likely it will be the usual mix of unforeseen burdens and unexpected blessings. But we must begin thinking about these issues now, lest we build a future for ourselves that cheapens, rather than enriches, America's most cherished ideals."
"But there are reasons to wonder whether life will really be better if we turn to biotechnology to fulfill our deepest human desires. There is an old expression: To a man armed with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To a society armed with biotechnology, the activities of human life may seem more amenable to improvement than they really are. Or we may imagine ourselves wiser than we really are. Or we may get more easily what we asked for only to realize it is much less than what we really wanted.
"We want better children -- but not by turning procreation into manufacture or by altering their brains to give them an edge over their peers. We want to perform better in the activities of life -- but not by becoming mere creatures of our chemists or by turning ourselves into tools designed to win and achieve in inhuman ways. We want longer lives -- but not at the cost of living carelessly or shallowly with diminished aspiration for living well, and not by becoming people so obsessed with our own longevity that we care little about the next generations. We want to be happy -- but not because of a drug that gives us happy feelings without the real loves, attachments and achievements that are essential for true human flourishing."
This report will have important implications for American society in the years to come. Please take a look at the report and share your thoughts.
Update: Check out William Safire's NYTimes Op-Ed piece on the same topic today, Of Mice and Men.
Update 2: Check out Gregory Stock's comments at brother Kling's site.
| Category: Neuropolicy
October 18, 2003
Yesterday I had lunch with Sam Barondes, author of Better than Prozac, Mood Genes and Molecules and Mental Illness near his home in sunny Sausalito.
I was fortunate enough to meet Sam along with Sol Snyder at the 2003 Staglin Family Music Festival for Mental Health a few weeks ago. Given Sam's fifty plus years of biopsychiatric research, he quickly appreciated the neurosociety concept. At the same time, he challenged my assumptions about the potential to develop neuroceuticals at the level of specificity that I am suggesting will be possible in the coming decades. Unable to counter Sam's depth of knowledge in psychopharmacology, I turned to history to help support my case.
Using several examples from previous techno-economic waves, I shared that most leaders at the cutting edge of their disciplines have not been able to conceive how far their particular discipline would advance in the decades to follow.
In particular, I mentioned that the case of computer scientists in the 1960s who couldn't see a way, or even a reason why, there would be computers in every home, car and telephone just a few decades later. This sparked an example from his own past about the many conversations he had with his friend, mentor and later Nobel Laureate, Marshall Nirenberg, at the NIH during the 1950s about how they could not conceive of how people would ever be able to read the genetic code. Yet with "Poly U" they did!
Sam is having a birthday party for an old post-doc of his today (to whom he gave E.O. Wilson's original Sociobiology several decades ago). After that he is off to Singapore to celebrate the opening of the Biopolis Centre (see photos) and then to the Society for Neuroscience conference in New Orleans. I look forward to sharing more of my future conversations with Sam around our emerging neurosociety.
October 16, 2003
When I started writing my forthcoming book on our emerging neurosociety several years ago, my working title and focus for the project was -- The Emotional Revolution. Human emotions are extremely complex and depending on who is doing the talking there still exists broad contention about what constitutes emotions.
Human emotions have been honed over millions of years by natural selection to be trigger-happy. Although deeply engrained emotions like fear, anxiety and anger were critical survival behaviors for our ancestors, many human emotions, at least the severity to which they are felt and expressed, no longer provide the same advantages. Instead, they actually get in the way of cooperative efforts to solve problems.
Emotional control, not cognitive enhancement, will be the area where neurotechnology will make the most decisive impact on productivity and society in the coming years. Whether one agrees with the philosopher Thomas Hobbes that our future hunger for pleasure drives our decisions or with the political economist John Locke that it is our uneasiness with painful circumstances that spurs humans to action, it is clear that pain, pleasure, and every emotion in between, influence our daily decisions.
| Category: Emoticeuticals
October 15, 2003
Neuroceuticals are tools. They hold the promise and peril of any new set of tools.
Tools like the oxen plow, railroads, electricity, automobiles, planes, cell phones, and the web, have all in one way or another been used for good and evil purposes.
By providing new tools for people to manage their behavior and empathize with others, neurotechnology represents potential breakthroughs in human productivity, political stability and ecological balance. In the wrong hands, this technology also could be used for mind control, coercive truth detection or as neuroweapons that have the potential to erase the memories or feelings of entire populations.
Neuroceuticals, although perhaps daunting and perhaps a bit scary because they have the capacity to influence our moods and perceptions, are being developed rapidly. My purpose is to help begin a broad and thoughtful public discussion of the social implications of neuroceuticals before they arrive. My intention is not to promote them but to highlight the fact that they will emerge no matter what stringent standards may be adopted by most of the world's governments.
My thinking is that neuroceutical adoption for competitive advantage will likely begin outside the jurisdiction of western governments, as the regulatory process will be slow to adapt. It is in the smaller countries or regions that initial adoption will occur where the political process can be persuaded quickly.
Moreover, when people within large multinational companies begin to experience the advantages these new tools bring, the pressure to accept and legalize them will grow quickly. Governments and regions that dont wont be able to compete. It would be as if a region didnt allow telephone service.
Neuroceuticals will one day be considered very ordinary and disappear into peoples daily lives like all successful technologies do. Just like irrigation is an invention we don't think about much anymore, neurotechnology will in time seamlessly become part of our lives.
| Category: Neuropharma
October 14, 2003
In his forthcoming book, Soul Made Flesh, Carl Zimmer elegantly describes the historical shift from an earth-centric view of reality to a brain-centered one:
"Today the brain is the center of our existence. Its neurochemistry encodes our selves. Our memories, emotions, and reasoning are mapped across its anatomy. But this was not always the case. In the early 1600s, the brain was considered little more than a bowl full of curds, an unsuitable organ for the work of the soul.
By 1670 the brain had taken center stage. Soul Made Flesh looks at those remarkable decades in which the Neurocentric Age--our own--was born. It was a time of unimaginable turbulence, full of bloody civil wars, religious strife, plagues, fires--and of scientific revolution. The cosmos was changing from an Earth-centered cluster of heavenly orbs to an abyss of stars. Alchemy was giving way to modern chemistry. And the human body was no longer made of the four humours, transformed into an earthen machine. In Oxford, a league of natural philosophers dared to take the scientific revolution to the soul itself. Making the first accurate maps of the brain, they forged the science of neurology--even giving it its name."
Carl's impeccable research and humble prose bring one back to an era where humanity began our long trek towards our emerging neurosociety.
Note: As the thousands of you who have been coming to Brain Waves can see, I've moved over to Moveable Type publishing system which now has comments and a categorization of previous posts. Please continue to take advantage of these features to accelerate the social discussion of the perils and promise that neurotechnology holds for humanity. Thanks to Hylton and Glenn for making the MT move worth the wait.
| Category: Neurosociety
October 10, 2003
Mental health is the ultimate competitive weapon. Mental health underpins the development of intellectual capital and competitive advantage. It anchors the capacity of employees, managers and executives to think, use ideas, be creative and be productive. Like never before, businesses depend upon the consistent, sustainable mental performance of their employees.
By enabling a higher level of productivity, neurotechnology represents the next form of competitive advantage beyond information technology. I call this neurocompetitive advantage. As I mentioned recently, innovation is one ubiquitous organizational process that will be impacted. Just as workers today leverage information technologies for competitive purposes, workers in the neurotechnology wave (2010-2060) will turn to neuroceuticals to enhance their competitive performance.
As Randall Parker surmises, financial organizations will be the first to leverage neuroceuticals to boost productivity. He is right on target. In her seminal work, Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital, Carlota Perez details how financial institutions have been at the forefront of adopting, testing and disseminating the latest cluster of technologies that have driven each of the previous five techno-economic waves. This goes all the way back to the water mechanization wave (1770-1820) where banks were among the first organizations to extensively use the penny post.
As more people live longer and global competition intensifies, many people will turn to regulated neuroceuticals as the next set of tools they will adopt to help them survive and succeed. Using cogniceuticals to increase memory retention, emoticeuticals to decrease stress and sensoceuticals to add a meaningful pleasure gradient, neuroceuticals will allow people to compete without being constrained by their neurochemistry.
An important point: the type of effective neuroceuticals to which I am referring are still at least 10 years away as we still need to break the brain imaging bottleneck and develop inexpensive biochips for DNA, RNA and protein analysis. Only then will neurotechnology have matured enough to begin influencing all parts of society.
October 9, 2003
Athletes provide a valuable preview of how far humans will go to succeed. Examples abound of professional athletes exploiting cutting edge technology to excel beyond their competition. One new device professional athletes are currently adopting in force is The Glove. The Glove significantly improves physical endurance by accelerating the dissipation of heat from an athlete. This allows them to rapidly cool their overheated bodies to a temperature where the bodys physiology runs most efficiently. Invented just a few years ago, The Glove is now regularly used throughout the National Football League to help exhausted running backs regain their stamina between plays. Is this enablement or enhancement?
| Category: Neuroethics
October 8, 2003
As I alluded to in Forecasting Happiness, neuroceuticals will play a prominent role in accelerating productivity across all economic sectors during the neurotechnology wave. One pervasive process that will be affected is the social process of innovation. Innovation is a key determinant of organizational success wherein cognitive assessment and emotional compassion combine to accelerate the creation of new knowledge.
Over the past several decades access to a growing global information web has improved innovation cycle times across every industry. Over the next decade this trend will continue as social networks (opinions, thoughts and concerns) become embedded across this information sea, creating a knowledge web that is vastly more reliable.
By improving cognitive clarity and emotional stability , neuroceuticals will make possible new behavioral repertoires that most of us cannot consistently attain today. For example, enhancing an individual's working memory with cogniceuticals will play a role in extending individual creativity, a critical component of the innovation process.
As different aspects of mental health are better understood, more parts of the innovative process will be impacted such as accelerating learning via cogniceuticals to enhancing interpersonal communication with emoticeuticals. As neuroceutical usage spreads across industries it will create a new economic playing field wherein individuals who use neuroceuticals will achieve a higher level of productivity than those who dont.
The resulting competitive gap will be substantial. To put this in historical perspective, imagine the competitive advantage that a team living in the year 2003 with the Internet as their information source has over a group living in 1953 that must rely on the local library.
| Category: Neuropharma
October 7, 2003
Sometimes, I'd rather not have a choice. This is especially true when it comes to two of the nominees for Forbes best Medical blog. Having spent the past six months watching fellow Corantean's Derek Lowe and Richard Gayle co-evolve their blogs, I've decided to do what I won't be able to do in today's recall election -- vote for 2 people, twice.
Richard put it perfectly, " I think Derek and I make a useful pair. I tend to gravitate towards early stage, biological, small biotech work while he brings a pre-development/development, chemical, pharmaceutical viewpoint to what he writes."
Their current proteomics discussion is just one of many great examples. I can't wait for them to discuss audioceuticals.
In this case 1+1 clearly equals 3.
| Category: Writing & Blogging
October 6, 2003
| Category: Neurodiagnostics
October 2, 2003
| Category: Neuroethics