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 individuals 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.