Corante

About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
Follow me on Twitter at @neurorev
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December 27, 2003

Help Iran's Earthquake Victims

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The 6.7 earthquake that struck Iran on December 26th is a tragedy of epic proportions. Please help the residents of the devastated southeastern Iranian city of Bam. The National Iranian American Council has links to several organizations that already providing assistance.

Comments (3) | Category: Writing & Blogging

December 19, 2003

Empathy: Our Survival Depends On It

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Arnold Kling's latest article, Biotech Ends and Means, thoughtfully criticizes the President's Council on Bioethics report, Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, for skirting the real issue:

"Do concerns over biotechnology scenarios warrant a worldwide totalitarian dictatorship?" If so he asks, "Will we curb freedom at the level of research, the level of development and marketing, at the level of consumption, or at all three?"

Kling's opinion is clear. "As concerned as I am about where biotech is taking us, I would rather take my chances on muddling through those issues than endure the heavy-handed centralized control that I believe would be needed to slow the biotech revolution....Such a dictatorship would be more dystopian than any of the scenarios that technology might create." I completely agree, but for me this begs the question....

Would it even be possible to control the actions of 6.5 billion people?

Widely diverging opinions and policies already exist with respect to biotechnology. While Germany and France categorically banned human genetic engineering in 1997, labeling it “an attack on human dignity and a violation of our right to an unaltered gene pool,” this research continues elsewhere. And even though the U.N. has debated banning reproductive cloning, how would their decision be enforced?

A recent C.I.A. report, The Darker Side of Bioweapons, highlights the perils of the biotech revolution, "The evolving bioscience knowledge base, coupled with its dual-use nature and the fact that most is publicly available via electronic means making it very hard to track" (and control). Biotechnology represents the most asymmetric toolset ever devised. As Kling himself has written, it will only take a single, well organized group of terrorists to unleash a bioweapon of catastrophic proportions.

Today's industrial-style geopolitical control structure is still grappling with the changes brought forth by the information technology revolution. This does not bode well for any efforts that might be put forward to reprimand countries or groups that pursue "banned" biotech research.

Our extensive global connectedness has created new problems for modern humans. While many people question the uneven distribution of power that exists in today’s world, others are disillusioned by the happiness that wealth was supposed to bring. In every culture, feelings of uncertainty, depression, anger, and resentment have surfaced on a vast scale.

Having spent thousands of years improving our control over the physical environment, we now need new tools to address the mental stress that arises from living in a highly connected urbanized world. It is for this reason that I am so interested in neurotechnology's potential.

While Kling describes commentators like myself (Reason's Ron Bailey and Aubrey de Grey included) as optimists who look at advancing technologies as opportunities rather than threats, I suggest (at least for myself), that new tools represent our best hope in a world seemingly out of control. Only by understanding the emotional basis of our actions will we have a reasonable chance of not destroying ourselves.

What humanity needs is an emotional revolution. New tools should be developed that allow each of us to actually feel, not just hear, the breadth of emotions that we all experience throughout our daily lives. For example, a relative emotional sharing solution that would allow people to share and experience the pain and happiness of another's existence might give rise to a more empathetic global society. If we could feel, share and understand each other at that level, we might just successfully enter the 22nd century as a human family.


--Thank you for continued interest in Brain Waves. I'll be taking a short blogging holiday as I spend the next two weeks with family and friends celebrating our fortunate lives. Until next year....

Comments (6) | Category: Neurosociety

December 18, 2003

Take 10 Seconds to Get Soup to the Needy

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Here is an easy way to make a difference this holiday season. Campbell's is donating a can of soup to the needy for every person that goes to their site and votes for their favorite NFL team. Their goal is 5,000,000 cans. Go here to vote. It will only take a few seconds of your time to fill some empty tummies with warm soup this winter.

I'm not a big football fan, but this is a no brainer.

Comments (0) | Category: X-tra

December 17, 2003

Addicted? Overweight?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

As the Economist's latest survey points out this week, "the trouble with people is that they want to be healthy, and they want their food to be tasty, cheap and convenient." The problem they assert is that these are all contradictory things.

"Once people are used to fatty, sugary and salty foods, they find it hard to give them up."

In sensoceuticals and super tasters I suggest that we are on the verge of being able to influence our evolutionarily defined neural chemistry. Our sense of taste will be one of the first targets as sensoceuticals begin to trick our pallet. Combine this with the coming end of addiction and maybe you'll be able to have that protein-infused nicotini after all.

So whether you are doing the low carb thing, or you are addicted to laughter, in 20 years you'll be able to taste and feel a lot more how you want. Or maybe we won't need these tools after all, as new figures suggest that over the past year Americans got very slightly thinner for the first time in recorded history.

Regardless of the current war on fat, advances in neurotechnology will surely change our lives and throw a wrech into projections like the U.N.'s latest population report Population 2300 as people live longer, happier lives.

Comments (0) | Category: Neuropharma

December 16, 2003

Are You Trustworthy? Give Me Your Blood.

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Posted by Zack Lynch

As Paul Zak explained in the Neurobiology of Trust, the hormone Oxytocin is a pretty good indicator of a person's trustworthiness. When someone receives an anonymous monetary transfer connoting trust, Oxytocin rises. The stronger the signal of trust, the more Oxytocin increases.

As Brad Delong pointed out earlier this year, what's going to happen to contract negotiations and interest rates on individual loans when an Oxytocin Test (OT) becomes inexpensive and readily available?

Would you receive lower interest rates on your home loan or your credit cards if you took the test? Would it become prerequisite for any government job?

From an economic point of view, the OT would provide valuable information to help the market make a more efficient allocation of resources. Think about the resources we burn enforcing contracts, from the national and state levels to individuals personally — this economic loss could be avoided.

You work hard for what you have. Will you submit? Will you have a choice? As neurotechnology progresses there will indeed be tests for all sorts of behaviors. Just read what Carl Zimmer dragged up today.

Comments (1) | Category: Neuromarketing

December 15, 2003

Carl Zimmer Moves His Loom and Soul to Corante

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Carl Zimmer has moved his blog, The Loom, over to Corante.

"The Loom weaves together deep time and modern life. It surveys new research on evolution, paleontology, and comparitive biology and links them to biotechnology, medicine, neuroscience, computer science, environmental issues, politics, and ethics. Plus the occasional mind-controlling parasite."

Carl is a frequent contributor to Discover, Newsweek, Scientific American and Natural History (among others). He is the author of four books, including, Soul Made Flesh, due out in January. Even before its release Soul Made Flesh has already garnered the following praise:

"Vivid and literate"-- Steven Pinker
"Remarkable and beautiful"-- Oliver Sacks
"Fascinating"-- Neal Stephenson
"Impeccable research with humble prose" -- Zack Lynch

Welcome aboard Carl!

Comments (0) | Category: Writing & Blogging

Social Sunshine

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Posted by Zack Lynch

In the midst of rain, the sun still shines. Follow these pointers if you are interested in: uplifting humanity, digital social ecology, blogging better, or How to Earn What You Are Worth.

Comments (0) | Category: X-tra

December 12, 2003

Protecting Your Freedom of Thought

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Posted by Zack Lynch

I recently joined the board of advisors of the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics. I follow neuroethics and neuropolicy issues very closely, and I am honored to be associated with the most forward thinking independent neuroethics organization around.

Over the next few months, two major movies will be focusing on memory erasing technologies.

1. PayCheck: Remembering the Future stars Ben Affleck and Uma Thurman. "Paycheck" was adapted for the screen from a novel by Phillip K. Dick, who is also the source writer behind such films as "Blade Runner" and "Minority Report." In the film, Affleck plays a reverse engineer who is hired for large sums of money to dismantle machinery and rebuild it for improvement. The only catch is that he has his memory erased of any work he has done after the fact.

2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, stars Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey want to have their bad memories erased in a more light hearted romantic comedy.

I am sure the actors and producers would be very interested in CCLE's work. Should you have access to them through your network please let them know about CCLE's real life fight to protect their cognitive liberty.

Now in their fourth year, they have many accomplishments, including arguing for freedom of thought in the U.S. Supreme Court. Please help them protect your cognitive liberty.

Here are some of the issues they are working on right now:

HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF...

* Your child were compelled to take Ritalin in order to attend public school?
* You were accused of a crime, but forced to take drugs while on trial?
* You were arrested and forced to take a truth serum, or were brain-fingerprinted?
* A medicine that safely improves memory was available, but you were prohibited from using it?

Freedom of thought is at a critical crossroads. Policy makers and judges are making important decisions now that set alarming precedent for the future of freedom of thought. Without freedom of thought, there can be no free society.

Comments (2) | Category: Neuroethics

December 10, 2003

Plows, Bronze and Wheels

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Posted by Zack Lynch

A piece from my book, that may soon become a note...

Around 10,000 years ago humans began to take advantage of their natural landscapes in ways that their ancestors could not have imagined. The agricultural revolution began in fits and starts across many generations before incremental innovations began to improve agricultural productivity. But it wasn’t until the discovery of copper and the invention of bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) that food production really took off.

Copper and bronze tools easily surpassed stone tools in strength and durability. The malleability of bronze made possible tools that couldn’t be made with stone or wood. Copper and bronze tools represented a radical change in the general technology system of the day and were a motive force in transforming agricultural productivity.

The development of bronze plow pull by an ox around 4000 BC was the greatest labor saving device of its time. For the first time in human history animal strength was substituted for human muscles as the primary generator of energy. The ox-drawn plow made possible the merging of the previously disparate economies of animal husbandry and plant cultivation, forming an entirely new economic system: field cultivation. Combined with complimentary techniques like fallowing and irrigation, plow agriculture cemented humanity’s breakthrough to civilization.

To make bronze, copper and tin ores had to be mined collected, often from distinctly distant sources, placing new emphasis on enhancing transportation technologies if use of these new materials was to grow. This pressure led to another critical invention of this period, the wheel. First developed around 4000-3500 BC in southern Asia, the consistent production of wheels was made possible by the resilient bronze tools that could consistently cut through wood. The world’s first wheeled transportation device was the two-wheel chariot. Built around 3500 BC, this chariot increased the speed of travel over land.

The social impact of the technologies made possible by bronze was profound. Now communities could accumulate large agricultural surpluses to support workers who did not have to be directly involved in food production, leading to whole new professions like tradesman, pottery makers, teachers and priests. As trade deepened and communities accumulated more wealth, chieftains, kings and queens, employed their amassed surpluses to build monumental structures to enhance their position in society and maintain control over their growing populations.

The rise of urban societies centered in impressively wealthy cities were entirely based on the food surpluses of plow agriculture which ultimately relied on the low cost input that had wide scale availability: bronze.

By the time the industrial revolution rolled around in the 1700s, the technologies developed throughout the agricultural revolution enabled the human population to soar from a mere 4 million around 8000 BC to nearly 400 million. Moreover, average settlement size grew from a mere 200-300 people to cities with over a million people. In a few thousand years, our ancestors tackled the first environmental constraint limiting their ability to feed, clothe and shelter themselves, and in the process transformed their daily existence.

Comments (3) | Category: NeuroWave 2050

December 9, 2003

Avoiding Hangovers or Promoting Excess?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

I rarely point out developments in so-called nutriceuticals (short for nutrition - not neuro as in neuroceuticals), but RU-21's alleged capability to reduce hangovers after moderate drinking is troubling because nutritional supplements do not have to be approved by the FDA.

Here is a classic example of the need to put nutriceuticals through a clinical trial process, legalize recreational drug development for non-addictive alternatives, or at least have some substantial research proving their efficacy from places like Rutger's Nutriceuticals Institute.

Apparently, RU-21 was created by the former KGB to keep its agents sober so that they could drink opponents under the table before stealing their secrets. Problem was, the KGB pill didn't stop drunkenness. Marketers in America claim that it has been clinically tested at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Apparently, it prevents the harmful effects of acetaldehyde which is produced when alcohol is consumed. (more facts on hangovers)

According to the Guardian, Hollywood actors are said to be fond of the fix, which enables them to make the most of comment board where people were describing their experience with it. Not very reassuring. I think I'll just stick with a glass of Lynch every once and a while. Why are we stuck with 4,000 year old tools anyway?

Update:a good link sent in by a Brain Waves subscriber on what really causes hangovers.

Comments (1) | Category: X-tra

December 8, 2003

The Emerging Neurowarfare Threat

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Neurowarfare, the use of weapons that target the human central nervous system, is an escalating concern. This month's Acumen Journal uncovers some areas of Russian neurowarfare research:

- Project Flute: a neurotoxic agent that becomes activated during times of stress or great emotion, and can damage the nervous system, alter moods, trigger psychological changes and even kill.

- Project Bonfire: similiar to Flute, Bonfire manipulate peptides and hormones that regulate our nervous systems.

- Unnamed: extensive research into creating agents that would cause fatal overloads of bliss

Dr. John Aquila, A RAND analyst, offers an interesting thought: "We (USA) could own every Russian bioweapons expert for the rest of their lives for about the price of 1 F-18 attach aircraft." Although this might slow down the development of neuroweapons in Russia, it is far from a panacea to this newly emerging threat.

Comments (3) | Category: Neuropolicy

December 6, 2003

Conscious Opinion

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Medpundit, who practices medicine on the front lines, has some worthy thoughts and links on our quest to understand consciousness on TechCentral. Check it out.

Comments (2) | Category: Mental Health Issues

December 5, 2003

The Edge of China's Mental Health

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Five of the ten leading causes of disability worldwide -- major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, substance abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorders -- are mental issues. These problems are as relevant in developing countries as they are in rich ones. And all predictions point towards a dramatic increase as evidenced by China's soaring demand for psychiatric services (reported by Melinda Lui and Jen Lin-Liu in Shanghai):

"China has only about 14,000 qualified psychiatrists...about the same number as France, with 60 million people—compared to China’s 1.3 billion.... China’s largest psychiatric facility, reports that its outpatient count has doubled in the past two years. Suicide—the leading cause of death for Chinese between the ages of 15 and 34—has reached an alarming pace, double the U.S. rate per capita (and impacts women more than men). Two million Chinese try to kill themselves annually...and China’s 750 or so state-run mental-health institutions can’t keep pace with the rising demand for their services."

As life expectancy continues to increase, mental health expectancy will become increasingly important. Neurotechnology will play a leading role in defining and treating mental disorders in the decades to come as Sam Barondes (Director of the Center for Neurobiology and Psychiatry at UCSF) recently shared with me over lunch and yesterday in an interview with John Brockman titled "New Pills for the Mind."

"The hot new technologies that psychiatric scientists are now using," he says, "include not only genetics but also brain imaging...It will be possible to correlate knowledge about genetic variation with knowledge about how specific brains operate in specific circumstances, as looked at with various kinds of functional magnetic resonance imaging." (Watch Sam's interview on The Edge).

Comments (0) | Category: Mental Health Issues

December 4, 2003

What's Next, A Nano or Neuro Wave?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

U.C. Berkeley economic historian Brad Delong proposed a techno-economic framework to try and understand how nanotechnology will impact the economy and society: (his full post)

"Let me simply assert that a fruitful way to analyze the social and economic impact of every technological revolution that has taken place over the past two and a half centuries is to seek the answers to four different questions, and then to draw out the implications of those answers:

1) What commodities--what goods and services--become extraordinarily cheap as a result of the technological revolution?
2) What human activities--what jobs and skills--become key bottlenecks, and thus become remarkably valuable and well-paid?
3) What risks blindside the society as the technology spreads?
4) What risks do people guard against that turn out not to be risks at all?

These are the four questions."(sound familiar?)

Since I posted a comment on his site last night, hundreds of you have come to learn more about our emerging neurosociety, so I thought I'd share my thoughts again, this time with links.

Since the industrial revolution there has been a relatively consistent pattern of 50-year waves of techno-economic change. We are currently nearing the end of the fifth wave, the information technology wave, while a sixth wave is emerging for us all to contemplate.

Each wave consists of a new group of technologies that make it possible to solve problems once thought intractable. The water mechanization wave (1770-1830) in England transformed productivity by replacing handcrafted production with water-powered “machine-o-facture.” The second wave (1820-1880), powered by a massive iron railroad build-out, accelerated the distribution of goods and services to distant markets. The electrification wave (1870-1920) provided the foundation for modern cities. The development of skyscrapers, electric lifts, light bulbs, telephones and subways were all a result of the new electricity infrastructure. The fourth wave (1910-1970) ushered in mass assembly and the motorization of the industrial economy, making the inexpensive transportation of goods and services available to the masses.

The most recent wave, the information technology wave (1960-2020), has made it possible to collect, analyze and disseminate data, transforming our ability to track and respond to an ever changing world. Driven by the microprocessors capacity to compute and communicate data at increasingly exponential rates, the current wave is the primary generator of economic and social change today.

Techno-economic waves have pervasive effects throughout the economy and society. New low-cost inputs create new product sectors. They shift competitive behavior across the economy, as older sectors reinterpret how they create value. New low cost inputs become driving sectors in their own right (e.g. canals, coal, electricity, oil, microchips, biochips). When combined with complementary technologies, each new low cost input stimulates the development of new sectors (e.g. cotton textiles, railroads, electric products, automobiles, computers, bio-education). Technological waves, because they embody a major jump up in productivity, open up an unusually wide range of investment and profit opportunities, leading to sustained rates of economic growth.


Here is my bet:

The nascent neurotechnology wave (2010-2060) is being accelerated by the development of biochips and brain imaging technologies that make neurological analysis inexpensive and pervasive. Biochips that can perform the basic bio-analysis functions (genomic, proteomic, biosimulation, and microfluidics) at a low cost will transform biological analysis and production in a very similar fashion as the microprocessor did for data.

Nano-imaging techniques will also play a vital role in making the analysis of neuro-molecular level events possible. When data from advanced biochips and brain imaging are combined they will accelerate the development of neurotechnology, the set of tools that can influence the human central nervous system, especially the brain. Neurotechnology will be used for therapeutic ends and to enhance human emotional, cognitive and sensory system performance.

The diffusion of the neurotechnology wave will lead to a restructuring of major portions of the economy. Individuals and organizations will respond by creating new:

·Product mixes that take advantage of advanced biochips and brain imaging. For example, neuroceuticals that are based on information about an individual’s genetic and neural organization will make it possible to influence and enhance all aspects of mental health, like emotional, cognitive and sensory capabilities.

·Forms of competitive advantage. For example, innovation is a complex mental function wherein cognitive assessment and emotional compassion combine to accelerate the creation of new knowledge. Individuals that utilize neuroceuticals (say to Forecast Emotions) will become more productive and creative will attain neurocompetitive advantage.

·Patterns in the location of production. For example, India and China will contain regional clusters of neurotechnology firms as political and cultural views on human testing create the necessary conditions for technological experimentation and development

·Infrastructures through significant capital investment. Infrastructures include both tangible infrastructures for their manufacture and distribution and intangible infrastructures, in the form of education and training systems, prevailing management styles, and legal and political frameworks at the regional, national, and global levels.

By viewing recent history as a series of techno-economic waves ushered in by a new low cost input, we can see that sustained investment in the NBIC technologies will lead to substantial economic, political and social change. Neurotechnology has the potential to create new industries, reinvigorate others, develop new forms of social and political organization, and make possible different modes of artistic expression.

In its wake neurotechnology will give rise to a new type of human society, a post-industrial, post-informational one, a neurosociety.

Comments (8) | Category: NeuroWave 2050

December 3, 2003

Emotions, Cognition and Perception with Daniel Kahneman

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Posted by Zack Lynch

In forecasting happiness I overviewed some of Daniel Kahneman's research into affective forecasting. This month's Strategy+Business has a nice interview with him sharing more of his thoughts.

Here are some highlights, with all the credit going to MIT interviewer Michael Schrage and to HBS student Matt Mahoney: (I highly recommend reading the whole article, free subscription).

-You can always find an evolutionary quotation for anything. But the question is whether it’s functional, which is not the same as being evolutionary. There might be some environment in which it’s dysfunctional, but mainly it’s inevitable.

-They’re not trying to learn from their own mistakes; they’re not investing the smallest amount in trying to actually figure out what they’ve done wrong. And that’s not an accident: They don’t want to know.

-But, you know, there’s also the issue of perception, which links to intuition. Perception evolved differently than either intuition or cognition evolved.

Matt's final comment is great, "This hits on so many themes from my cognitive science days at UCLA, plus, more crucially, every single class I'm taking (finance, reporting & control, lead, technology operations mgmt.)

His question for me is: "If emotions get in the way (b/c it overweights), how can we use emotion as a tool to build intuition? to blend intuition and reasoning?" Matt, here is one idea (see Finance with Feelings).

As far as it's implications for marketing (see Neuromarketing to Your Mind).

Comments (1) | Category: Neuromarketing

December 2, 2003

Performance Enabling Cogniceuticals Will Boost Productivity

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Posted by Zack Lynch

As pervasive information access emerges over the next decade, seamlessly embedding itself into our daily routine like electricity is today, how will individuals be able to take advantage of our global knowledge web?

One way will be to use tools like performance enabling cogniceuticals. Marrying information technology and pharmaceuticals is already proving to be a powerful way to help people overcome phobias as described in last week's Science article "Pills and Games Help Conquer Fear"(sub. required).

"Using a virtual reality game that stimulates the experience, combined with a drug that revs up certain learning circuits in the brain is helping people overcome their fear of heights." And the difference is substantial. "Many subjects overcame their fears in two sessions rather than eight."

Although there will be limits to expanding short-term or long-term memory in the near term, the ability to stimulate specific neural connections related to memory formation will create stunning results in memory retention when combined with pervasive computing.

By providing the brain with additional capability to learn, we will really begin to be able to take advantage of the immense quantity of information we are creating. For example, language learning and retention although greatly augmented by real-time digital translation devices will be even easier as cogniceuticals accelerate neural connectivity in the brain networks involved in language. As neural plasticity and connection patterns are created through experience, retention rates will be dramatically higher, decreasing overall learning time.

Now that is neurocompetitive advantage.

Comments (0) | Category: Cogniceuticals

December 1, 2003

The Long Wave Perspective

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Andrew Anker at VentureBlog suggests in Accelerating Acceleration that technology adoption life cycles are compressing. Alex Pang at FutureBlog summarizes the points:

-The product uptake curve is accelerating
-The laggard market is disappearing
-New products will either open big or get killed early
-It's not about technology any more
-Early adopters will become a big enough group to serve on their own

Although I agree that that this may be happening in information technology related products and services (Andrew's examples are specifically consumer electronics -- DVD players, movies, Internet usage, Tivo), it is far from any general acceleration across all markets.

Just spend a minute with Derek Lowe as he discusses the continuing difficulties facing the pharmaceutical industry to see how technology adoption and diffusion is not accelerating everywhere. Instead, we are observing what economist Brian Arthur described as the coming information technology build-out.

By taking a broader historical view, as developed by Carlota Perez in her seminal work, Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital, we can see that we are nearing the fourth and final stage of the information technology wave. Indeed, it is by taking this longer term perspective that it is possible to see that within the next decade we'll be entering the neurotechnology wave, where NBIC technologies will converge creating entirely new markets with many of the same old adoption life cycle attributes.

Comments (0) | Category: NBIC 03-04-05