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
Receive by email

TNRCoverWeb120.jpg Buy on Amazon
In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

Brain Waves

« Emotions, Cognition and Perception with Daniel Kahneman | Main | The Edge of China's Mental Health »

December 4, 2003

What's Next, A Nano or Neuro Wave?

Email This Entry

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


1. Chris Furmanski on December 4, 2003 4:42 PM writes...

I am certainly not an economist, but I wonder if the existing economic infrastructure can handle the dramatic rise in unemployment that seems to be a natural consequence of using neural enhancements to increase productivity. As it stands, it seems like the old-guard that supports the existing commodity-based economy hasn’t even learned to cope with the fact that current technological advances in computing and robotics simply increase the magnitude of the inverse relationship of worker productivity and employment. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard market speculators, especially lately, echo the importance of the unemployment rate and how the recent flash of increases in measures of worker productivity should eventually increase employment. To me, successful and significant advances in technology (not to mention out-sourcing of jobs to overseas, for that matter) logically increases unemployment. If the markets are stalled below 10k and 2k waiting for unemployment to come down, time to sell your index trusts. The most obvious path I see will produce technology-fed increases in worker efficiency due to cognitive/neural enhancement, which, in turn, will put more and more less skilled, less productive workers out of work--- and I cannot see the existing commodity-based, unemployment, or welfare systems being able to handle what seem to be inevitable unemployment rates of 10, 20, or 30 percent or more.

Permalink to Comment

2. Tom Smithdeal on December 4, 2003 7:35 PM writes...

I think that maybe Chris' comment about unemployment rates will eventually translate into how many people does it take for the American economic engine to run. Historically, we have needed an ever-expanding rate of population growth to provide both output and consumption. What happens when increasing "output" no longers depends on or requires population growth? What then is the "optimal" population of America? 100 Million? 200 Million? How do we "adjust" the population to the new desired level?

Permalink to Comment

3. dean on December 5, 2003 1:54 PM writes...

population adjustments always happen by large numbers of people dying or migrating. limiting reproduction is immoral and counter to every human instinct, it doesn't work. we have to leave the cradle soon or die. i hope the new nano age makes a human migration to space possible or our children will be doomed to an infinite number of horrors.

Permalink to Comment

4. ghost on December 6, 2003 4:45 PM writes...

Permalink to Comment

5. Zack on December 8, 2003 5:09 PM writes...

Glenn Reynolds points out the growing nano/neuro debate on MSNBC:

Permalink to Comment

6. Brad DeLong on December 8, 2003 9:53 PM writes...

Nicely argued...

Permalink to Comment

7. Frederick on April 20, 2004 6:04 PM writes...

With all this talk about what's next in the nano world and the impact new innovation has on the economy, has anyone considered the amount of damage if such technology would fall into the hands of someone or some group with ulterior motive? I stumbled across a piece of technology that I'm trying to identify. It has no known origin. At this time I'm combing through US patents to pinpoint the Mfg and the Serial number. I've included an Abtract of what this technology is if anyone sees a similarity or another avenue I haven't explored please email. Anything can be sold cheaply in the blackmarket over the web.

Abstract description of device: neruo sensory receptor. It has cochlea properties. Its nano.
It has a microphone, an optical component, and visual component through fiber optics. It works over a signal with an on/off switch. If the device were to be implanted it would be located on the brain stem where it would interact with the nervous system, PNS. This technology is geared specifically towards the Primary somotos sensory cortex. This controls the following in the body: Swallowing, eyes, toes, knees, wrist, brow, lips, face, nose, thumb, fingers,hand, forearms,elbow, head, trunk hips, genital, and leg. This neuro sensor works off a signal.
The greater the distance from the origin weakens the signal strength but not the visual or auditory component.
The basis for this technology initially might have been for paralysis along with spinal cord research.

Permalink to Comment

8. Maitreya Mudkavi on July 16, 2004 2:09 AM writes...

Dear Sir,

The site impressive, congratulations for that!

I am an electronics engineering student, in my final year now. In the final year we have make/ build an electronics projects, which can be hardware or software or combination of both. I am planning to do some work on brain waves & its analysis ( that will be beneficial for students & teachers in learning & teaching resp.) . But this is just a rough idea. I would be grateful if I do get some assistance from you regarding this, so that I can make use some concrete idea for my project.

Your guidance is much needed.


Permalink to Comment


Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):

Chinese Cover of The Neuro Revolution
The Neuro Revolution Lands In China
How Neuroscience Will Change the World - My Interview on
Neuroscience Hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday Sept 29, 2pm
The Neuro Revolution Published in Japan as "Neuro Wars"
Neurotech 2010: Translational Researchers Highlight Innovation
The Neuro Revolution in China Progressing
Speakers for Neurotech 2010 - Boston, May 19-20