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December 13, 2005

The 5th Year in Ideas for the Brain (Part 2)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Continued from yesterday's 5th Year in Ideas for the Brain from the NYTimes Magazine:

5. Seeing with your Ears: A new device called "vOICe" allows you to present visual information into sounds, allowing blind people do "see" with sound.

6. Subadolescent Queen Bees: According to a study released this year, girls as young as 4 manipulate their peers to stay atop the social hierarchy. " They'll spread rumors and give their peers the silent treatment. They do what ever it takes to maintain control."

7. Trust Spray: A nasal spray containing the "trust hormone" Oxytocin can be used to make human subjects more trusting. In a 128 person research experiment almost half of the individuals who took three snorts per nostril of the spray transferred all their money to unseen trustees, whereas only a quarter of those who inhaled a placebo went that far.

8. Yawn Contagion. Steve Platek, a cognitive neuroscientist at Drexel University, describes yawning as " a primitive unconscious mechanism that has a lot to do with empathy. To prove his point he put volunteers into fMRI machines and made them yawn again and agin to pinpoint the areas involved. Apparently their brains lit up in the same region that is known to be highly associated with empathy. Bottom line: if you yawn a lot, you are more likely to exhibit "higher empathy."

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December 12, 2005

The 5th Year in Ideas for the Brain (Part 1)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

For the past five years the New York Times Magazine has produced an issue focused the past years "most noteworthy ideas." I look forward to this issue each year. It never ceases to amaze me how many of these ideas are directly related to the brain. I highly recommend visiting the New York Times Magazine website and searching out this year's most noteworthy brainy ideas. Here are four of them with a short excerpt from the magazine's full description.

1. The False Memory Diet: It is possible to convince people that they don't like certain fattening foods -- by giving them false memories of experiences in which those foods made them sick.

2. The Hypomanic American: This year two professors of psychiatry each published books attributing American exceptionalism to...American DNA. They argue that the US is full of energetic risk-takers because it is full of immigrants who as a group may carry a genetic marker that expresses itslef as restless curiosity, exuberance and competitive self-promotion-- a combination known as hypomania.

3. Microblindness: People are distracted by naked supermodels; it doesn't take three PhD's to figure that out. But what psychology professors at Yale and Vanderbilt Universities have discovered is that erotic -- and violent -- are so distracting that they make people temporarily blind. The effect lasts for less than a half a second and is known by the name "attentional rubbernecking."

4. Monkey Pay-Per-View: It turns out that with remarkable consistency, monkeys are willing to forgo a little juice -- to pay extra, in effect -- to look at pictures of more important monkeys or to check out the "attractive back end" of a female monkey. This study shows that social information is wired into their brains: the neural circuits that assign value (in the currency of juice) have access to the database of social interaction.

Four more tomorrow.

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November 08, 2005

Neurocompetitive Advantage - The Future of Competition

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Posted by Zack Lynch

More has been learned about the brain in the past 10 years than the previous 50. There are currently over 400 companies worldwide working on creating new treatments for brain illness and the same knowledge about how the ill brain functions will most likely make it possible to enhance the performance of “normal” brains, including improve memory retention and emotional stability.

The implications of brain enhancement are profound. And you can bet, that if there is a way to safely improve human capital productivity, individuals will use these new tools to work more effectively and keep their jobs. But using neurotechnology for performance enhancement will not come without protest.

Cultural concerns regarding what is “natural” will lead ethical and moral tensions around the basic right to augment oneself. Divisions will emerge across all levels of society as humanity grapples with this new way of living, impacting each nation and culture differently.

However, the reality is that we live in a highly competitive global economy. Even if it is just a small group of individuals choose to improve their mental performance, their choice will transform the basis of competition for the rest of us.

From a business perspective, it is clear the mental health is the ultimate competitive resource. It underpins the development of knowledge capital and the capacity of employees, to think, be creative and be productive. Like never before, business today depends upon the consistent, sustainable mental performance of employees.

As more people live longer and global competition intensifies, people will need to learn new skills throughout their lives. Performance enhancing neurotechnology represents the tools workers will use to succeed at continuous education. By enabling a higher level of productivity, neurotechnology represents the next form of competitive advantage beyond information technology. I call this neurocompetitive advantage.

While results like these may seem impossible, so was the idea of putting a man on the moon in the early 1900s.

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October 26, 2005

DVD of Theoretical Neuroscience Meeting

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Posted by Zack Lynch

If you are a "neurogeek" like me you'll be happy to hear that all the talk given at the recent inaugural symposium of the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience Institute, now associated with the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute at UC Berkeley were videotaped and are available as a DVD.

The talks included:
Horace Barlow, Cambridge University
"The Roles of Theory, Commonsense, and Guesswork in Neuroscience"
Dan Kersten, University of Minnesota
"Human Object Perception: Theory, Psychophysics & Imaging"
Sue Becker, McMaster University
"The role of the hippocampus in memory, contextual gating, stress and depression"
Florentin Worgotter, University of Goettingen
"Learning in Neurons and Robots"
The Role and Future Prospects for Math/Computational Theories in Neuroscience
David Heeger, New York University
"What fMRI Can Tell Us about How Visual Cortex Works"
Kevan Martin, ETH/UNI Zurich
"Canonical Circuits for Neocortex"
Terry Sejnowski, Salk Institute
"Dendritic Darwinism"
Jeff Hawkins, Numenta
"Prospects and Problems of Cortical Theory"

To order, please send a $5 check made out to UC Regents and send to:
c/o Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience
Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute
132 Barker, MC #3190
Berkeley, CA 94720-3190

A roster of upcoming talks at Redwood visit their website here.

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September 30, 2005

DARPA's Radical Neurowar Technologies

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Posted by Zack Lynch

All technologies are double-edged swords. While advances in neuroscience are making possible more effective treatments for mental illness, the same technology is also going to be used for other purposes. For example, the U.S. Defense Science Office recently announced that it is creating a future in which our warfighters instantaneously assimilate all available information through advances in neurotechnology.

One program promises a future in which warfighters can maintain their peak physical and cognitive performance, despite battlefield stressors such as sleep deprivation and exposure to extreme environments. The DSO envisions a future where severe pain is eliminated for weeks with a single dose and no adverse cognitive effects. Remarkable, they state, this pain therapy is already in clinical trials.

Another program that has come out of the DSO's long investment in understanding language of the brain has led to the possibility of the developing an upper limb prosthetic that responds to brain control, a prosthetic that has all the motor and sensory capabilities of a natural limb. While this program might have alternative uses, it is currently targeted to help returning soldiers who have lost a limb to participate more fully in their return to society.

These are just a few of the programs that are beginning to give rise to the scary neurowar scenario I have previously written about.

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September 20, 2005

Brainy Scientists at UPenn

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Posted by Zack Lynch

I traveled to the University of Pennsylvania yesterday to speak to graduate students and professors associated with the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. Besides my talk that covered some of the social implications of the rapidly developing neurotechnology industry I had an opportunity to meet with several researchers doing some very interesting research. Here is a quick slice of what these researchers are up to:

Robert Forman: Impact of the Internet on distribution and delivery of legal and illegal drugs via the web. Persuasive research that will surely influence the drug importation debate,

Anjan Chatterjee: The historical analogies between the birth and growth of cosmetic surgery and cosmetic neurology. Very impressive parallels that include the dynamics of market forces.

Amishi Jha: Functional neuroimaging experiments on how neuropharmaceuticals and meditation influence similar aspects of attention in adult ADHD. Persistent meditation can improve focus.

Martha Farah: Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience since 1999. Empirical examination of how a variety of neuropharmaceuticals impact "normal" individuals.

Paul Wolpe: Where to start? Busy bio-neuroethicist who is about to get a lot busier. Writing a book on biotechnical augmentation and ethics. Paul is a very bright individual and this book should be an important contribution. Told me to read the book Better Than Well.

While is was a quick 23 hour trip, it was well worth the time. It was especially nice to meet several students who drove down from Princeton for the talk. For more on the great research occurring at Penn I recommend visiting

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July 14, 2005

Magic and Science - Just An Angstrom Apart

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Posted by Zack Lynch

What separates artists and experimental scientists? Not much. This was the conclusion of last nights' Quantum Leaps panel discussion which included such luminaries as Bill Haseltine (retired Chairman and CEO of Human Genome Sciences), Martin Perl (Stanford's Nobel Winner in Physics - 1995), the hilarious Ivan Schuller, and the ever-witty moderator Bruce Jenett.

Despite one man's obsessive compulsive interrupting disorder, the two hour discussion dove deep into the value of contrarian thinking, the self-confidence and intuition required by both leading scientists and artists to create break new ground (in spite of the scientific method), and how obsession (the result of combining extreme intellect and emotion) is required to grapple with the unknown.

Bill Haseltine focused squarely on the future of medicine highlighting the regenerative model of human health that is emerging (via skin graphs, bone marrow transplants, and stem cells) and the tight integration and rapid development of bioelectronics (artificial hearts, prosthetic limbs) and neuorodevices (cochlear implants, optical implants).

Martin Perl posited several interesting questions:
1. What if mass is a trivial property in relation to understanding the universe?
2. What if gravity is not a smooth force as currently assumed?
3. Can we do time travel?

Ivan Schuller brought many laughs as he stripped down to his black t-shirt that had a multi-color version of the period table of elements. Ivan's main point was that experimental scientists need to have the freedom to explore their obsessive concerns without the need to explain exactly what the value of their work will generate in terms of economic gains. In terms of his current research on nanosystems he declared, "Don't ask me why it's valuable, we won't know this for many years to come."

Bruce Jenett interjected at several points to illuminate the discussion, ending with the profound thought of asking the audience to explore what part of themselves they would like to modulate if they could. As Bruce reminded all of us, "Yesterday's magic is today's science is tomorrow's commodity." Snap, snap.

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January 19, 2005

Is God in Your Brain? Neurotheology

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Posted by Zack Lynch

People everywhere say that they have had out-of-body experiences. (Follow this link to read people's stories).

In this week's Journal of Neuroscience, Blanke et al. attempt to link the phenomenon known as an out-of-body experience (OBE) with specific brain activity. During an OBE, one senses that the "self" departs the body so that the body and the world can be viewed from "outside." Healthy volunteers imagined an OBE, mentally shifting their visual perspective and body position. Evoked potential mapping revealed selective activation at the temporoparietal junction. It seems that out of the body is not necessarily out of the brain."

So maybe the phrase "In Neurons We Trust" isn't that far off the mark. Special kudos to the research team: Olaf Blanke, Christine Mohr, Christoph M. Michel, Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Peter Brugger, Margitta Seeck, Theodor Landis, and Gregor Thut

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January 11, 2005

Science and Society Weekly Internet Radio Program

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Posted by Zack Lynch

"Science and Society" is a must hear radio broadly focused on the life sciences, physical sciences, and planetary and space sciences, as well as K-12 science education and the intersection between science, art and society.

Catch the conversation tomorrow, Wednesday, 1/12/05, 1PM PST. (click here)

- The Honorable Phillip J. Bond, Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology
- Dr. Steven Wiley, Director, Biomolecular Systems Initiative, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
- Dr. Karin D. Rodland, Staff Scientist & Technical Group Lead, Protein Function, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

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January 03, 2005

2005 Carnival of the Capitalists

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Management Craft is kicking off the New Year by hosting this week's Carnival of the Capitalists. Be sure to check it out. If you want to participate in the next one, visit this website for the submission form.

This week’s theme is Brains and Hearts - How we Use our Brains and Hearts as Tools of Progress and Meaning. Looks like I got lucky when I submitted by blog on mental health and neurocompetitive advantage. I also recommend Tom Peter's short post on New Year's Resolutions.

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December 21, 2004

Mental Health Will Be The Ultimate Business Weapon - Review of ASF 2004

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Here is a brief review of the talk I gave last week in Dubai which was also covered in the Gulf Today:


"Providing 'A Peek into 2050' noted futurologist Zack Lynch predicted that 'Neurotechnology' will be for the future what Information Technology is for the present.

Speaking at a dinner hosted by General Motors (Cadillac) for delegates and speakers for Arab Strategy Forum 2004, NeuroInsights managing director Lynch, pointed out that one in four people in the world today suffer from some brain-related disorder and predicted that by 2020, the incidence of depression would double. "More people will suffer from depression than people suffering from AIDS, heart disease and traffic-related accidents - combined," Lynch told a rapt audience.

He pointed out that a "healthy brain is the most important resource in any economy or business. It is directly linked to economic development."

This forms the basis of efforts to enhance the brain to enhance productivity and efficiency, Lynch said adding that enhancers are already acceptable in society.

Athletes use performance enhancers and cosmetic surgery is widely prevalent to enhance looks, pointed out Lynch adding that brain enhancers would find similar acceptability, but that this would not be without protests. It will definitely impact on the nations and cultures. It will affect people personally - how they see themselves and others. There will be the question of ethics.


"But the reality is that we live in a competitive economy and mental health is the ultimate business weapon. Neurotechnology is the next level after Information Technology. It will provide the 'Neuroadvantage'," Lynch predicted.

He explained that neurotechnology has already begun to be tested to enhance the productivity of workers. It is a method to analyse the brain and enhance its performance. It has three tools - brain imaging, neuropharmaceuticals and neurodevices."

More insights from the Forum soon.

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December 08, 2004

Arab Strategy Forum to Visit Our Emerging Neurosociety

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Posted by Zack Lynch

"Our region is at crossroads and our fates are inexorably tied. We can either succeed together or fail together. We can choose to erect barriers that stifle growth or forge new alliances that create opportunities. The Arab Strategy Forum is about the latter. It is about dialogue, debate and networks that create new opportunities for peace, progress and prosperity for our common region and our common future. It has been set up for the region, by the region.

I look forward to welcoming you to Dubai and hope you will be part of this momentous cause."
- HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum


20 years ago I visited Dubai and it changed my life. Today I am leaving San Francisco with my wife and returning to Dubai to give a keynote talk at the Arab Strategy Forum on our emerging neurosociety. The central theme of the meeting is The Arab World in 2020 and I have been invited to share my perspective on Tomorrow’s World: A Peek into 2050 at the gala dinner on the second night.

It is an honor to be speaking with so many esteemed individuals, including: Former President Bill Clinton; Thomas Friedman; Madeleine Albright; Laura Tyson; Gideon Rose (Editor, Foreign Affairs); Prince Turki Al Faisal (Saudi Arabia); Jassim Al-Mannai (Chairman of the Arab Monetary Fund); Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi (Malaysia); Rafiq Al Hariri (Former Prime Minister of Lebanon); Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem (Libya); Hoshyar Zebari (Foreign Minister, Iraq); Fouad Ajami (Johns Hopkins); Juliette Kayyem (Harvard); Mohamed M. ElBaradei (Director General, IAEA); Fareed Zakaria (Editor, Newsweek); AbdulRahman Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah (Secretary General, GCC); Samir Al Ansari (CEO, Dubai International Capital); and many more key stakeholders.

The goal of the meeting is to advance the state of the Arab Region by bringing together key regional stakeholders to engage in activities that bridge differences and build opportunities for growth and prosperity in the region.

The invitation to speak came from a paper Tim-Rasmus Kiehl (a Harvard neuropathologist and long time Brain Waves reader) and I spontaneously wrote in September titled "The Neurotechnology Nexus: Opportunities for Dubai as a Leading Cluster of Converging Technologies." No one requested this information. We wrote this paper for one simple reason: to share the knowledge about how neurotechnology will impact business, politics and global culture in the years to come with those who are focused on the critical issues facing today's world. I am extremely honored and humbled by this opportunity and look forward to sharing my experiences upon my return.

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November 08, 2004

Arab Strategy Forum 2004 - A Peek into 2050, Keynote by Zack Lynch

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Posted by Zack Lynch

I am extremely honored to be giving the keynote talk at this year's Arab Strategy Forum that will be held from 13 - 15 December 2004, in Dubai, UAE. The central theme of the Forum will be 'The Arab World in 2020'. Discussions will focus on three major axis, Arab Governments in 2020, Arab Economies & Businesses in 2020, and Arab Societies in 2020. My keynote talk at the Gala Dinner on December 14 will focus on "Tomorrow’s World: A Peek into 2050."

The invitation was graciously extended by the Executive Office of His Highness General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Defense Minister with additional support from Mr. Saeed Al Muntafiq, Director General of Dubai Development and Investment Authority.

It has been almost 20 years since I have visited Dubai. Under the leadership of the UAE's first President, who passed away last week, His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and the country's other progressive leaders like Sheikh Mohammed, the country has established an impressive record of rapid economic and social development, including: Dubai Internet City (where 65% of the workforce are women), Dubai Media City, Dubai Knowledge Village, Dubai Health Care City, and the Dubai's e-government portal, the world’s first fully online government.

I look forward to sharing with the Forum participants a hopeful and realistic peek into our common future.

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November 03, 2004

A Sage Passes - His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan

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Posted by Zack Lynch

His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, was laid to rest on Wednesday evening at a site in the Zayed Grand Mosque as millions mourned his passing.

Known as the Arab Sage, Sheikh Zayed will be remembered for his focus on long-term political-economic development, equality of women, inter-faith tolerance and compassion for his people. He was a beacon of hope throughout the world that will shine on for many decades.

"A nation without a past is a nation without a present or future," he once said. "Thanks to God, our nation has a rich past with a flourishing civilization, deep-rooted in this land for many centuries. These stable roots will always flourish and bloom in the glorious present of our nation and its anticipated future."

The Supreme Council of the Emirates, which comprises the leaders of the seven constituent emirates, their brothers and their crown princes, held a meeting and unanimously elected Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi, as its president Wednesday, hours after burying his father.

Sheikh Zayed was the first and only president of the UAE, which was formed in 1971. He was strongly revered by Emiratis and other Arabs across the Middle East.

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October 11, 2004

Christopher Reeve - A Real Super Man

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Christopher Reeve (Sept. 25, 1952 - Oct. 11, 2004)

"Look, I've flown, I've become evil, loved, stopped and turned the world backward, I've faced my peers, I've befriended children and small animals and I've rescued cats from trees," Reeve told the Los Angeles Times in 1983, just before the release of the third "Superman" movie. "What else is there left for Superman to do that hasn't been done?"

"I refuse to allow a disability to determine how I live my life. I don't mean to be reckless, but setting a goal that seems a bit daunting actually is very helpful toward recovery," Reeve said after his 1995 horse-riding accident that caused his paralysis.

--- Christopher Reeve's inspiration is beyond words.

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August 29, 2004

Neurobiologist Susan Hockfield MIT's New President

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Posted by Zack Lynch

MIT has chosen Susan Hockfield, a neurobiologist who is currently provost at Yale University, to serve as its sixteenth president. Hockfield will succeed Charles M. Vest, who has led MIT for the past 14 years. She is expected to take office in early December, and will be the first woman and first life scientist to hold the post.

Congratulations to Susan and to MIT. I've been following her career for several years and she fits perfectly with the McKnight Foundation's strong commitment to accelerate the development of neuro-oriented research.

Nobel laureate Susumu Tonegawa, an MIT biology professor who served on the faculty advisor committee for the presidential search, says that Hockfield has achieved international fame as a neuroscientist. “On a personal level, she has an uncanny knack of making people feel at ease and is a great and thoughtful listener. She is a charismatic figure who we will be proud to have represent MIT on the national and international stages,” says Tonegawa. He adds that Hockfield's appointment will "accelerate the demise of the gender barrier in science and engineering.”

While MIT continues to push further into developing the technical aspects of our emerging neurosociety, Stanford's Judy Illes continues to break new ground in neuroethics. Perhaps it's time to endow the new program for neuroethics at Stanford. Please contact Judy or me if are interested.

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August 19, 2004

Jet Lag? To Sleep or Not to Sleep

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Posted by Zack Lynch

We live in a 24 hour society. Perhaps we should have some better tools.

New insights on causes of jet lag and shift work disorientation (from innovation-report)

Timing is everything and our circadian clock, allows us (and almost every other organism on the planet), to predict the daily changes in our environment, such as light and temperature. One of the most important functions of the circadian clock is its ability to react to and predict environmental cues, light being the most important, keeping the endogenous clock in phase with the external light-dark cycle (entrainment). Cryptochrome is a light-sensitive protein that is the key to entrainment.

Dr Rosato explained the importance of this research: “There are obvious advantages in having a clock. For instance we can start mobilising resources before they are actually needed, or we can temporally separate processes, which would be otherwise incompatible. As the clock evolved long before transcontinental travel and shift work were invented, jet lag and physiological dysfunctions are the price we pay for the unnatural 24-hour society.

The implications of our frenetic life-style are much more profound than we generally think, as recent studies have indicated that the circadian clock (and clock genes) may be involved in diverse conditions such as tumour suppression, survival of animals with cardiomyopathy heart disease, left ventricular hypertrophy, diabetes, and cocaine sensitisation. It is therefore a very important factor in human and animal health and well-being.”

In fruitflies and mammals the same genes appear to play similar roles in determining how the 24-hour clock works. However, the ease of genetic analysis and the molecular tools available in the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster, means that progress is particularly rapid with this organism.

The feature in Nature Neuroscience opens new insights on circadian light signalling and the biology of cryptochromes. The University of Leicester research team showed that by removing the terminal end of CRY (thus creating CRYD), they could generate flies that never ’experience’ night-time, as if they were living in a perpetual Arctic summer. They demonstrated this with a range of behavioural, molecular and cytological experiments.

“During our experiments we also noticed that a particular group of neurons were especially affected by the continuous subjective light stimulation. This unprecedented observation allowed us to integrate several threads of circumstantial evidence from previous studies, and implicate this group of neurons as main players in the entrainment of the Drosophila clock.”

How might help the paradox of globally distributed teams?

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July 30, 2004

Knowledge Measurement Is Coming

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Knowledge management is a joke and search technologies are overrated.

It was about ten years ago that I really began to understand the adage, "you can't manage, what you can't measure." It was the early Internet days, when companies like CyberCash were promising micropayment systems for e-commerce, Yahoo was establishing the first search/portal system and supply-chain vendors like i2 Technologies were beginning to leverage TCP/IP to rearchitect information flow among disparate factory planning systems. It was then that I realized emerging knowledge management applications had (and still have) a fundamental flaw: they don't measure the value of information. Without knowledge valuation you can't have knowledge management.

To realize the productivity potential of information technologies will require information valuation. By historical analogy, it is as if we are in the middle of the industrial revolution and we don't know the cost and price of steel. Today we sit in the midst of the information revolution and still don't know the value of the most fundamental resource that drives our global economy: information. The benefits of the information revolution won't be realized until bottom-up, market-based valuation of daily information exchanges emerges.

Seven years ago, I shared this concept with Shanda Bahles of Eldorado Ventures. Three years later she gave me a call and asked me to come back in to explain what an information valuation system would look like to the partners. For the next six months Ross Mayfield and I worked day and night developing a business strategy for infecting the world with this technology. It was early 2001, and the venture investment community was, to say the least, not investing in "radical, unproven technologies." So we shelved our business plan. The world was not yet ready to value their time.

Several recent events make me think that the world might just be ready for information valuation. For example, the interest in using prediction markets and idea futures within companies to optimize resource allocation and sales forecasts are gaining momentum. While I still think it will be a few more years until robust systems are developed, I am more optimistic than ever that knowledge measurement systems will emerge. The reason is simple: search can only go so far.

Search technologies, no matter how sophisticated, can't capture the implicit value that humans inherently place on information and relationships. Today "search technologies" continue to command great attention and funding (Google) as "the solution" to the "info glut" problems that arise from working in an information economy.

While I won't go as far as to say that "search is dead," I certainly believe that in the next decade it will be relegated to a background function, as information valuation technologies allow simple, seamless ways for individuals to place a monetary value on every form of information they encounter each day. Bottom-up information valuation of highly nuanced information will enable markets in everything. In the process, information valuation will transform the future of work, organizational cultures, eliminate information overload, and finally make knowledge measurement (and thus management) a reality.

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July 26, 2004

Sarin Gas Neuroprotectant in Development

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Neurowarfare is a very real and growing threat. In an effort to accelerate new drugs and vaccines against potential bioterror weapons including anthrax, smallpox, plague and the Ebola virus, the House of Representatives approved last week a $5.6 billion anti- terrorism initiative called Project Bioshield.

While American's focus on bioweapons, other governments are making headway on new ways to stem deadly the impact of neuroweapons. This week at Singapore International Neuroscience Conference, researchers from DSO National Laboratories presented new findings that showed how epidural clonidine is used with two other drugs it can protect brain cells from being destroyed by nerve agents, like sarin gas. Preliminary tests showed that the combination reduces brain damage significantly and does not cause breathing complications, thus increasing survival rates, compared to the cocktail now used in situations like the 1995 sarin gas attack in Tokyo subways by members of Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo.

As the Strait Times reports, "While the new combination has been shown to protect most of an affected person's brain cells even when administered as much as 40 minutes after he is poisoned by biochemicals...the potential downside is that it could lead to psychosis, a mental disorder where the person loses touch with reality, and lead to his being on medication for life." Given these complications, the researchers stated that it will take at least another six to eight years of testing to determine if the new combination should replace the existing one.

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July 15, 2004

The Play Ethic and Our Emerging Neurosociety

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Brain Wave's guest blogger Pat Kane, author of "The Play Ethic: Living Creatively in the New Century," has been neofiled. I highly recommend reading his interview and buying his book about the future of work which he suggests will be...well, fun. Here is one of the pieces he wrote a while back:

By Pat Kane

[As promised, Pat Kane, author of the forthcoming book "The Play Ethic: Living Creatively in the New Century (MacMillan 2004), is guest-blogging on Brain Waves this week as Zack Lynch begins the heavy lifting of writing a book of his own.]

It’s a delight to be in this space, as I’ve been an admirer of Zack’s diligent and intelligent blogging for a while now. But it’s perhaps best to start by explaining why a social commentator and musician/consultant/activist like myself, with at best a fan-boy enthusiasm for the Third Culture crossover between humanities and science - is interested in the issue of "neurosociety" (never mind neuro-sociology).

Zack's entry on the neurophysiology of laughter and humour was the main point of contact with my own interest, expressed in my website and forthcoming book The Play Ethic. The title started out as a kind of pun on Max Weber's notion of the Protestant Work Ethic, but has expanded into a multidisciplinary passion for understanding human play in all its forms, traditions and conditions.

One of the reasons I turn to cutting edge mind-science - and admittedly to its more dynamical and emergent than determinist models - is that I'm always trying to unsettle the reductive model of human nature and its capacities implied by the "work ethic", particularly as deployed by opportunist politicians and other neo-Puritan miserables. To be "at play and in play" is not only to have a mentality that is far more suited to a knowledge-intensive information economy: but it's also to deliberately embrace the essential abundance of human consciousness.

The "ethics" of play then become an answer to the old question stated in the 1968 edition of the Whole Earth Review: "We are gods, and we might as well get good at it." This is a world which is ever more constitutively "open" and up for grabs - whether in terms of what Zack calls the "nano-bio-info-cogno" realm of transformative technosciences, or the extreme fluidity of our globalised markets and cultures. Can we become "ethical players" of all these possibilities - rather than cynical manipulators of them, or defeated and angry victims?

So one reason for me to be interested in Zack's agenda is precisely in the area of the cognitive capacity and emotional evolution of the ethical player. (The wisdom contained in the "technologies of self" we often call spiritual traditions - see Francisco Varela and Erik Davis - is another agenda worth exploring). To cope with this carnival universe that we've made, is it enough - as the some evolutionary psychologists would tell you - to rely on the old hominid responses: that repetoire of savannah inheritances, tragic and comic, that have become a consoling pop-science myth for so many people?

Or can we begin to explore, as so much of Zack's linking does, the scary but exciting area of neurosocial innovation? Might carefully-calibrated drugs open new doors of perception, enabling players to participate in all the ramifying games and strategies of information societies, rather than recoil from its chaos and complexity? Certainly, in a society where play became a mainstream rather than a marginal practice, the inhibitions on pursuing cognitive and somatic enhancement would be much reduced, particularly in terms of research investment. (In one of my own specialist areas - music - the relationship between craft, technology, innovation, consciousness and, er, "neuroceuticals" (well, that's one word for them) has long been explored in practice: I hope to pick that up, among other themes, over the next few days).

Any comments and questions, I'd be very happy to receive them.

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June 24, 2004

Long Live Healthy Minds

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Posted by Zack Lynch

FuturePundit blogs about Glenn Reynolds' Aubrey de Grey interview at TechCentralStation, and forgets his own recent post about the need for better tools for mental health that will be required by long living humans.

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June 10, 2004

Improving Software Productivity via Neurofeedback (A proposal)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Several months ago Dr. Rajaram contacted me from India about an idea he had to utilize neurotechnology to improve software engineering productivity. The following is a paper he has written about the project. He is currently looking for sponsors and will be visiting the U.S. in mid-June (in New York On June 11 and in SF on the 21st).

Written by L.N.Rajaram, PhD

The average experienced programmers inject as many as 10 defects in 100 lines of code, spending more than 40% of their development time finding and fixing defects.

There are many reasons for writing software in such an inefficient manner including inexperience, incompetence, and the intrinsic complexity of the problem to be solved. The most common reason is an inexplicable tendency to discard proven prescribed practices of systematic effort and indulge in practices that Watts Humphrey calls as those of 'American Cowboy Programmers'. This style is popular with even some experienced programmers and is characterized by a sporadic mixture of 'code-a-bit, test-a-bit' (called CABTAB) set of unplanned activities.

Many attempts have been made to stop such practices by introducing several organizational models, standards and certifications. The most effective of these have been the Personal Software Process and the Team Software Process of the Software Engineering Institute, as these address issues at the level of individuals and teams that develop software. The emphasis is on individuals planning their activities and working according to their plans. Such disciplined way of working has shown astounding results and those who for some reason have undergone such training and have seen their individual performance improve remain converted to that style of programming.

However, the crunch is in getting people to realize that there is a need to improve, to get them to undergo this training and to inculcate a discipline of self restraint against tempting short cuts that are actually counter productive.

There is a persistent delusion that software complexity can be overcome with some heroic intellectual effort. A kind of folklore romanticism exists amongst the software community that they are the intellectual cream of the society and can overcome all challenges by the sheer power of their brains. However, the evolutionary origins of the human brain suggest that it is not designed to tackle the challenges faced in software development. The mind is involved in sporadic switching between the real world problem and its symbolic representation, between high level conceptual abstraction and low level procedural detail, between the ambiguity and hence flexibility in user requirements and the rigidity of a dumb machine. The mind is ill equipped to handle this complexity and requires help. The evolutionary psychologist Leda Cosmides sums it up very succinctly in Our modern skulls house a stone age mind.

The 'triune brain' proposed by Paul Mclean is fascinating. The model talks of evolutionary layers of brain. The brain stem is a reptilian relic and forms the lowest layer and is primarily responsible for controlling body's basic metabolic functions, like heart rate and breathing. On top of that is the second layer known as paleo-mammalian brain, also known as the limbic system. This is the seat of emotion and memory, comprising the amygdala, the hyppocampus and the hypothalmus. "Our primary emotions, love and fear, sadness and joy-emerge from this region, coloring incoming stimuli with emotional valences we have associated with past events stored in the hyppocampus or the amygdala." The top most layer is the neo-cortex. This is the most distinctly human and evolutionarily youngest component of the brain's architecture. Only primates have something similar. The cortex is the seat of abstract thought, long term thinking and complex communications.

It is obvious that the cortex has a very big role to play in an objective and rational intellectual process required for software development. Within the cortex there are different centers that process sensory information, do mathematical abstraction, language and symbolic abstraction and construction, fill-in missing information by sub-consciously extrapolating known facts, implied contexts and so on. Different circuits come into play during different levels and types of abstractions undertaken while formulating software requirements, design specifications, detailed level logic and algorithms and while implementing the code. Disciplined methods of software programming help in the predominant functioning of one or the other part of the brain and the 'cow-boy style programming' encourages the unstructured chattering of different parts of the brain bidding quick-fix solutions.

But we have a more serious problem than the incoherent functioning of the different parts of the rational brain. Software work like all other work does carry the attendant emotional baggage. There is fear of failure, need for peer recognition, expectation of reward, competitive pressure. Thus the limbic system also climbs on to the center-stage of the orchestra in the mind involved in software development. The Stroop Interference Test enables us to appreciate how difficult it is concentrate on any one aspect and to stop one's brain from thinking different things. It is indeed a wonder that the human brain has had so many intellectual achievements to its credit, in spite of its 'primitive' design.

Until the maturing of the software industry in the last couple of decades, a very insignificant fraction of the society has been involved in intellectual pursuits. For the first time in the history of mankind millions of people are involved in the type of intellectual activity characterized by the knowledge economy. Hence it has become very critical to find ways of routinely enhancing the intellectual productivity of large representative sections of society not specially endowed with extraordinary abilities. These neuro-feedback techniques have to augment the ongoing efforts of evangelizing disciplined software methods.

The application of neurotechnology could provide us with a 'head cap' that provides us with a feedback to help us monitor our brain activity. With the help of this feedback, individuals can be trained to willfully chose and restrict activity to the most effective part in the brain to deal with the specific aspect of the software problem at hand. The feedback can be used to prevent the cacophony of all the parts of the brain to drown us in an overkill of rationality and emotions. Several experiments in different contexts have been reported to localize and even measure the electrical activity in different parts of the brain of a subject to see its correlation with what the subject was thinking at that time. Steven Johnson has reported in his book 'Mind Wide Open' as to how he could calm his mind to 'pay attention to one specific aspect and shutting out other activity by the observing the feedback obtained by measuring his 'Theta waves'. Many sports persons have benefited by this technique and great ones like Tiger Woods seem to have a natural ability to shut out all unrequired rational thought while performing.

I propose that several areas of research be undertaken to ultimately understand how software productivity can be enhanced with a better understanding and monitoring of brain activity. To start with I propose that several subject programmers be asked to volunteer to study the activity pattern in their brains under controlled conditions. The conditions could be varied systematically by first having volunteers who practice disciplined software methods and have a proven track record of very good results. Secondly, the volunteers could be drawn at random without any previous coaching in disciplined methods. They could then be subject to other conditions such as stress of schedule, reward, ridicule, etc. A correlation between the use of best practices, the spatial and temporal distribution of brain activity and the quality of software and individual productivity could be established.

This study could then lead to applying the results to train intellectual workers to enhance their concentration on one aspect of the problem and thus improve their productivity. By observing the impact of stress and other emotional aspects, the work environment including the corporate set-up can be reengineered to suit this kind of work.

If we could get an insight into how to help individuals write defect free software to a far greater degree than the prevailing state of art we would have unlocked a major productive force that could make this world a far better place to live in. If you are interested in learning more about this project please contact me directly at (rajaram-at-webcalltech-dot-com)

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May 28, 2004

Empires of the Mind

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Posted by Zack Lynch

"The empires of the future are the empires of the mind."
~ Winston Churchill, September 5th, 1943

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May 12, 2004

Europe Deliberates the Neurosociety

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Amsterdam, 23 April 2004 - “Brains sciences are not only about treating diseases, they form an important narrative about what it is to be human. That is why it is important to have a societal discussion about what is going on in the field,” said Andreas Roepstorff, a medical anthropologist from the University of Aarhus (Denmark). Roepstorffs’ statement was one of the important conclusions of the expert-stakeholder workshop ‘Connecting Brains and Society, the Present and Future of Brain Sciences: what is possible, what is desirable?

This summary of the meeting put together by Peter Raeymaekers, Karin Rondia and Marjan Slob. It is the first in a four part series covering the key topics discussed at the meeting.

The meeting represented the overture of the European Citizens Deliberation project. Before involving citizens in the discussions on brain sciences, the members of the steering committee of the ECD felt that an overview of the technological and societal aspects of brain sciences was needed.

A Timely Topic

A citizen’s debate on the different aspects of brain science was welcomed by all participants of the workshop. “Considering that 35% of the burden of all diseases is caused by brain diseases, these diseases have received relatively little attention,” said Jes Olesen, president of the European Brain Council.

-- Is there enough teaching of neuroscience and brain diseases at medical and nursing schools?
-- Is a reasonable proportion of research funds allocated to basic and clinical neuroscience?
-- Are the efforts in prevention, primary care and hospital treatment sufficient?

The huge burden of brain diseases requires a response to all these questions. Society must also address the fact that the burden of brain diseases will further increase in the next 10–20 years.

Baroness Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, considers brains sciences a timely topic for debate, “Appreciating the dynamism and sensitivity of our brain circuitry, the prospect of directly tampering with the essence of our individuality seems to become a possibility.”

A well selected group of 25 European top level scientists and stakeholders were invited to this informative workshop to give their views on the developments in brain sciences from their own perspectives. Among them physicians, neuro-, psychiatric, cognitive and social scientists, philosophers, artists and representatives of stakeholder organisations – i.e. the pharmaceutical industry, the European Brain Council, the European Federation of Neurological Associations and the Global Alliance of Mental Illness Advocacy Networks, and The European DANA Alliance for the Brain. Unfortunately, the president of the Federation of the European Neuroscience Societies, Pierre Magistretti, was in the end not able to attend the workshop. But CCLE's Wrye Sententia attended from the USA to discuss our emerging neurosociety.

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May 11, 2004

Our Minds, Your Brain

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Posted by Zack Lynch

How does a mind arise from the biology of the brain?

What are the neural bases of cognition, personality, and self-awareness?

How can we characterize intelligence and creativity from an interdisciplinary perspective?

What are the limits of nervous system plasticity in cognitive function, and how does training influence cognitive-neural organization?

If you are interested in these questions, then you should know about the new Center for Mind and Brain at UC Davis.

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April 23, 2004

The Coming Neurosociety Transcript

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Posted by Zack Lynch

If you missed Natasha Mitchell, host of Australia's weekly national radio program, All in the Mind, interview me about The Coming of the Neurosociety, the transcripts are now available.

Here is an excerpt :

Zack Lynch: Currently the United States has recently implemented fingerprinting people as they come into the United States from certain countries. If they have the capacity to do brain finger printing should that be done, is there a right for individuals, Americans, or foreigners to have brain privacy? Where is that edge in a neurosociety?

Natasha Mitchell: Where indeed? Hello Natasha Mitchell with you for All in the Mind. This month sees the release of another surreal offering from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman with the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The film has stars Jim Carey and Kate Winslet selectively erasing their minds of memories of their tumultuous relationship with the help of a maverick scientist and a whiz bang piece of neurotechnology.

Extract from the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind trailer:

Here at Lacuna we have a safe technique for the focussed erasure of troubling memories.

Is there any risk of brain damage?

Technically the procedure is brain damage.

It’s on a par with a night of heavy drinking, nothing you’ll miss.


That baby is history.

It’s all been wiped away.

They are erasing you Clem you’ll be gone by morning.

Natasha Mitchell: Yes, well it sounds improbable though not according to my guest today who believes that the rapid convergence of nanotechnology, cognitive science, biotechnology and information technology, which all gets abbreviated to 'Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno' by the way, will have major consequences for how we think and behave.

You might have read recent headlines championing the arrival of the next big thing in the advertising world, Neuromarketing - just one example of the prospects for neurotechnology. It’s an attempt to find the 'brain’s buy button', so they say, and the idea is to scan our brains, measure cerebral blood flow to find out what our subconscious minds really feel about a product and to tailor ad campaigns accordingly.

The hype around it all has been palpable and keeping a keen eye on it is Zack Lynch who’s Executive Director of a non-profit organisation he’s founded called the Neurosociety Institute and he also runs a popular net blog called Brain Waves – Neurons – Bits and Genes, exploring technologies that target the contents of psyche and beyond. And Zack joins me today on All in the Mind.

Zack Lynch thanks for joining me on the program from there in San Francisco.

Zack Lynch: Well thank you for having me.

Natasha Mitchell: You think we’re on the cusp of yet another major societal transformation, you suggest that we’re heading towards a neurosociety. What is a neurosociety?

Zack Lynch: Well if we look back through human history what we see is we’ve come from an agricultural society to an industrial society, today we’re living in an information society where political, economic, social changes, basically driven by information technology. If we look forward what we see is the convergence of multiple technologies that will allow us to develop effective tools for mental health. Now those tools are neurotechnology, the set of tools that allow us to manipulate our central nervous system, more specifically our brain. Our future society will be driven by neurotechnology. Now that’s brain scanning technologies, neuroceuticals, which are advanced psycho-pharmaceuticals and those will create new industries. They will have political, economic and major ethical implications.

Natasha Mitchell: You paint a pretty grandiose vision, I’ll come to neuroceuticals in a minute because that’s an intriguing possibility – you suggest that neurotechnology has the potential to redefine competitive advantage, restructure patterns of global production and make possible new modes of artistic expression. I mean to some ears this all sound rather improbable.

Zack Lynch: Sure, with any new technology there’s always promise and peril; it’s a double-edged sword. Now I think it’s important to know that when I talk about the neurosociety what we’re really talking about is a time from about 2010 to 2060. This isn’t something that’s occurring now so when you’re looking at how brain scanning technology is and neurotechnology is in its current state today.

Natasha Mitchell: Positively antiquated.

Zack Lynch: Correct, absolutely, as I like to say, Prozac is the wheel!

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April 07, 2004

FutureLab for High Schools on Tour

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Posted by Zack Lynch

FutureLab: The Innovation Expo is currently traveling to high schools around the U.S. previewing advanced technology exhibits in the areas of: Deep Space, NanoFutures, Beyond DNA and RoboTech. FutureLab’s goal is help teens understand how science will shape ltheir lives and future job prospects.

After only two stops, FutureLab has reached over 12,000 students. To see if FutureLab will be coming to a high school in your area check here.

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April 06, 2004

FutureGuru Sees the Neurosociety

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Posted by Zack Lynch

James Canton, CEO of the Institute for Global Futures, is interviewed in US News' Friday Forward column where he describes some of the critical issues he sees emerging in the coming decades. Here is a snippet:

"Next News: What trends do you see developing over the next 10 to 25 years that the average person today has little awareness of?

Canton: The major future trend that will affect everyone in business in the future is the emergence of the innovation economy. Innovation will be the currency of the future marketplace, offsetting the outsourcing trend. Those that know how to use tech innovations to create customer value will win. The fastest innovation will be driven by the convergence of four power tools—nanotech, biotech, infotech, and cognitive science. They will offer a new gold rush of opportunity. Leveraging the new building blocks of innovation comprised of bits, atoms, genes, and neurons will be essential for future leaders . . .

The real sleeper trend is neurodrugs for enhancing human cognition, augmenting memory, and increasing intelligence. Human and health enhancement will be the largest marketplace in the 21st century, driven by the aging and affluent baby boomers who will want to invest in their own longevity—"live long and prosper."

Next News: What magazines or Web sites do you read that the average person may not have heard of?

Canton: I get Issues in Science and Technology, I subscribe to the NeuroSociety Online Blog by Zack Lynch and I get NASAs Astrobiology newsletter."

As I've mentioned before, James gets it.

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April 04, 2004

Guru of the Week - Pate Kane and the Play Ethic

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The London Financial Times named Pat Kane this week's Guru for the ideas he has put forward in forthcoming book, Play Ethic: A Manifesto for a Different Way of Living.

Pat was a guest blogger on Brain Waves last year writing several brilliant pieces, including:

- The Play Ethics and Neurosociety
- No Innovation without Representation
- To the Victor the Paradoxes
- "Quirky, Flexible, Redudant": the Being and Becoming of Play

As he explains in the Financial Times and on his own blog, "We should stop thinking of playing as a distraction and start celebrating its benefits, such as added creativity, flexibility and dynamism. We should also redefine the way we think of ourselves and label ourselves "players" not "workers."

I highly recommend Pat's Play Ethic blog if you haven't been there already. Also, check out what the Guardian had to say about him.

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April 02, 2004

Life in the US in 1904

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Marginal Revolution caught this great blog about what life was like 100 years ago in the US.

- Average life expectancy was 47.
- Only 14 percent of homes had a bathtub.
- Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.
- There were 8,000 cars and just 144 miles of paved roads.
- More than 95% of all births took place at home.
- 90% of all physicians had no college education.
- Most women only washed their hair once a month
-The five leading causes of death were: 1. Pneumonia & influenza 2. Tuberculosis 3. Diarrhea 4. Heart disease 5. Stroke
-And the kicker: The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30.

So what will 2104 look like? Sure makes our emerging neurosociety seem more likely, eh?

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March 27, 2004

The Neurotechnology Wave

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Posted by Zack Lynch

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.

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Overview of Our Emerging Neurosociety

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Lynch's 15 Laws of the Neurosociety

1. Lynch's Law of Social Forecasting

By viewing recent human history as a series of techno-economic waves with accompanying socio-political responses it is possible to understand the type and timing of how new technologies will shape our future human society.

2. Lynch's Law of Future Societal Change

Neurotechnology will drive the next fifty year wave of societal change, the neurotechnology wave 2010-2060.

3. Lynch's Law of Neurotechnology

Neurotechnology, the set of tools that influence the brain, are being driven by nanobiochips and brain imaging technologies that will make neurological analysis inexpensive and pervasive.

4. Lynch's Law of Nanobiochips

Nanobiochips that 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 during the information technology wave. Unlike Venter's Second Law, the cost of biochips will decline even more rapidly because they will be the driving low cost product that will transform every industry. Nanobiochips will emerge around 2012.

5. Lynch's Law of Human Brain Imaging

Nano-imaging techniques will make possible real-time analysis of neuro-molecular level events in the human brain. The brain imaging bottleneck will be broken around 2015.

6. Lynch's Law of Neuroceuticals

When data from biochips and brain imaging are combined they will enable the development of neuroceuticals. Neuroceuticals are tools that will reduce the severity of mental disorders and improve mental health.

Neuroceuticals can be broadly categorized into three classes:Cogniceuticals, Emoticeuticals, and Sensoceuticals.

7. Lynch's Law of Neuroceutical Development

Today's pharmaceutical development process where a new drug can take 15 years and can cost over $800m. By 2020 new neuroceuticals will take less than 2 years to develop and cost under $10m. Details of pharma's industrial implosion in chapter 4 of my forthcoming book, Neurosociety.

8. Lynch's Behavioral Law of Neurotechnology (Perception Shift)

By influencing multiple personality characteristics, neuroceuticals will shape how people perceive daily issues. New behaviors will emerge that culminate into a substantially different behavior repertoire than people currently encounter. A person who is slightly less depressed, slightly less anxious, slightly more aware, and with slightly better recall behave differently than people do today.

9. Lynch's Law of Human Performance Enablement

By improving economic productivity countries will legalize performance enhancing tools by 2020. This shift will come with the understanding neuroceuticals are the latest set of tools, in humanity's long history of tool building, that enable individuals to live, live longer, and live happier.

10. Lynch's Law of Neurocompetitive Advantage

Neurotechnology represents the next form of competitive advantage beyond information technology. 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.

11. Lynch's Law of Regional Economic Development

Neurotechnology clusters will emerge in India and China first because the political and cultural views on human testing won't impede technological experimentation and development.

12. Lynch's Law of the Neurosociety

Neurotechnology will give rise to a new type of human society, a post-industrial, post-informational, neurosociety.

13. Lynch's Law for the Survival of Humanity


14. Lynch's Personal Law of Life

People do the best they can with the resources they have.

15. Lynch's Personal Law for Life

Give more, get more.

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March 25, 2004

Work in the Era of the Global Extensible Enterprise

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Yesterday I spent the day with 300 others at IBM's 2004 Almaden Institute conference. Jim Spohrer invited me to listen about the following topics by some leading thinkers, including:

1. The Future of Work -- Thomas Malone (MIT Sloan School)
2. Changing Ways of Working? -- Graham Button (Xerox Research Centre)
3. Strategic Issues Linking US and India-based IT Workforces -- Dossani (Stanford)
4. Empowering the World's Poor Through IT -- Mohamed Muhsin (World Bank)
5. Cross-cultural Issues in Global Software Outsourcing -- Geoff Walsham
6. The Geopolitics of Shared Cognition in Globally Distributed Teams -- Marietta Baba (Michigan State University)

Unfortunately, even at IBM's premier research center, wi-fi access was spotty, so I lost some of my notes on a few of the talks because of getting kicked off the wireless network. A classic problem that all conferences, like the Always-On Conference had last year.

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The Paradox of Globally Distributed Teams

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Defining a Global Distributed Team (GDT) as an interdependent workgroup comprised of cultural diverse members based in two or more nations who share a collective responsibility for making or implementing decision related to a firm’s global strategy was Marietta Baba In her analysis these team also relied on technology as a medium for communication and coordination.

For GDT's to work successfully members share and integrate explicit and tacit knowledge and create new knowledge that adds value. In this case Knowledge is defined as aspect of cognition whose accuracy or correctness has been validated externally (a problem since ways of knowing are culturally constructed). In addition, there needs to be cognitive convergence: A process by which individual cognitive structures become more similar or overlapping overtime as people work together. (These teams have to use knowledge to reach their goals.)

To uncover the mechanisms that mediate cognition and performance on a GDT she and other researchers used ethnographic analyses that included: recording spontaneous conversations, coding of their behaviors, team documents, and reports from the team to access convergence or divergence. All of this was in the context of trying to understand whether or not they agreed on the task at hand and could successfully execute that goal.

Here were the obvious findings: GDT's that don't share physically conducive spaces, and unshared contexts across teams create cultural differences in cognition.

Here was the non-intuitive finding: Homogeneous clusters handing work off to other homogeneous clusters did not create cognitive convergence. This happened for two reasons:
Fault lines: Co-occurence of divergence differences in each place created stronger identities that overpowered previous commonalities
Power clusters: Heterogeneous concentration of people in a group with co-located key corporate assets created an exclusionary agenda of believed power.

I hope I captured this fascinating research accurately. Either way, if you are interested in learning more, consider Dr. Baba an expert to turn to.

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Knowledge as Development Tool

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Suggesting that IBM’s real business opportunity was in empowering the 3B people around the world who don't have internet connectivity was Mohammad Muhsin. He provided some great example of how people were creatively tackling the problem of how individuals can log onto the internet without connectivity?

In one area of Pakistan, people write out their questions on paper which are sent to a nearby community that has access who then on a given day each week the answers are broadcasts via radio.

Another intelligent example was occurring in India where people need to have access to the soil erosion information about their land. In this case, the information about their soil is extremely private information and could easily be used against a farmer in negotiations. To overcome this problem in this village of 6.5 million people (yes, he said village) a public/private partnership was developed to provide information on soil erosion to individuals. But because almost all of these villagers are illiterate, they couldn't even type in their personal information to access the information. The answer: biometric thumbprints scanners are now being used to access private information for illiterates.

Summing it up, he declared, "knowledge empowers the human spirit."

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The Future of Work: Happiness

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Posted by Zack Lynch

“How many of are you happy?” asked MIT's Tom Malone as he opened his talk about his recent, thought-provoking book, The Future of Work: How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style and Your Life. While almost everyone raised their hand, he suggested that this is not the norm, and added that "values and happiness" will become be major determinants of where, how, why work is done in the coming decades.

Other great points included:

We are in the early stages of an increase in human freedom in business, that may be as important to businesses that democracy was for political organizations." He based his assertion on the fact that Low communication costs make it possible to drive change based on human values. Two examples he highlighted this view were the emergence of wikipedia, an open content encyclopedia where anyone can change anything any time and the explosion of Ebay which has over 41 million active buyers/sellers across the globe.

Further exploring his thesis he described how societies have developed over history from bands that were decentralized and unconnected, to kingdoms that were centralized but unconnected in between, to democracies which are relatively decentralized and connected. Building on this he explained how businesses in the 20th Century evolved from small, local businesses (1900) to large centralized corporations (1950) to empowered, outsourced, networked organizations most recently.

Projecting forward he suggested that business organizations where independent decisions are valued will create higher motivation, more creativity, and greater responsiveness. Sounds a bit like the Parecon thesis for business.

From the inside cover of his book: "Imagine organizations in which bosses give employees enormous freedom to decide what to do. Imagine electing your own bosses and voting directly on important company decsions. Imagine organizations in which most workers aren't employees at all, but electronically connected freelancers living wherever they want to. And imagine that all this freedom in business lets people get more of whatever they want in life -- money, interesting work, the chance to help others, or more time with their families."

I had a chance to speak with Tom about our emerging neurosociety and its relevance to his thinking around the future of work, and his response was exactly what I have posited, "This sounds very real, a lot more real than the current hype surrounding nanotechnologies impact on the future of business, politics and culture." It was as if he had read my piece Is It a Nano or a Neuro Wave?

Update: See Dave Pollards post Centralize/Decentralize for some intelligent commentary on Tom's book.

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March 24, 2004

Outsourcing - Japan, India, China, US

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Two talks covered different aspects of the international outsourcing issue.

Discussing the history of US outsourcing to India was Rafique Dosanni who called in from India where he is doing his latest research. In short, he detailed how India would like to climb up the value chain in software development all the way up to ownership of whole product, but cross-cultural issues continue to stem this possibility.

One clear example he used of outsourcing that was sure to occur on a massive scale in the next few years was call centers. 6 million Americans are currently employed at call centers with an average hourly wage of $8. In India, the average hourly wage is $2. When asked if this would hurt the US economy he commented that it definitely will if these workers don't have the opportunity to be retrained for a new line of work. With the average call center worker in the U.S. having 25 years of experience compared to 3 years in India, he suggested that it might be hard for these workers to easily motivate to get retrained.

Exploring the outsourcing of Japan software to India was Geoff Walsham who made the point that even though Chinese software engineers are 1/3 the cost of Japanese programmers and India's are one half the price of a Japanese software engineer, Japan still prefers to outsource to India. The reason, India has a better grasp of the media technologies and better toolsets. However, looking forward he suggested this would change, especially since the primary second language that Chinese programmers are now learning is Japanese. This gives new meaning to what goes around comes around.

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March 12, 2004

The Neurobiology of Creativity

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Yesterday's Redwood Neuroscience Institute's Stanford Theoretical Neuroscience Lecture featured William Calvin from the University of Washington.

The general theme of his talk was creativity. "How you do something you’ve never done exactly that way before, yet get it right the first time?"

His answer: You can have competitions between categories, between movement programs, between relations, between analogies. That’s what a Darwin Machine in neocortex could buy you: a general process for quality creativity at various levels.

Some of the most interesting work on the neurobiology of creativity is being conducted by Dr. Rosa-Aurora Chavez from the National Institute of Psychiatry in Mexico City. To determine if there was a genetic component to creativity, she took blood samples from 100 recognized artists and scientists. Her findings showed that highly creative individuals had increased expression of specific serotonin transporter and dopamine receptor genes.

She then performed functional neuroimaging experiments on a dozen of these creative minds, concluding that creative individuals had significantly higher activation in the right and left cerebellum, frontal and temporal lobes, while they performed creative tasks.

Creativity research has important implications for business innovation and investment. While standard IQ tests and college entrance exams focus on convergent thinking, i.e. finding the right answer, creative individuals excel at divergent thinking, i.e. discovering multiple potential solutions. The typical behaviors of creative individuals, such as novelty seeking and harm avoidance, as well as, high emotional, sensual and physical over-excitability, often result in the abandonment of projects.

In today’s rushed corporate world focused on quenching the financial markets thirst for efficiency, there is little room for individuals who do not predictably meet deadlines. Further research might validate that sustained financial support of think tanks could produce more innovations. Imagine if the Medici family had not backed Michelangelo, a creative genius who is known to have left over half of his sculptures unfinished.

How many cures for diseases and market opportunities have been missed as a result of short-circuiting the creative process?

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March 10, 2004

In Neurons We Trust?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The Economist reported last week about a group of researchers who are exploring the neurobiology of religious experiences.

Until recently, religion and spirituality were deemed as 'cultural, a product of social conditioning, and not biological'. Religious beliefs and spirituality was the 'playing field' for theologists and philosophers, not biologists and scientists. Many scientists were skeptical and unwilling to consider the spiritual as science.

Building on the pioneering work of Michael Persinger, researchers are suggesting that "religion is a property of the brain, only the brain and has little to do with what's out there." Those who believe in neurotheology are trying to disprove the existence of God say they are holding up a mirror to society about the destructive power of religion. They say that religious wars, fanaticism and intolerance spring from dogmatic beliefs that particular gods and faiths are unique, rather than facets of universal brain chemistry.

"It's irrational and dangerous when you see how religiosity affects us," said Matthew Alper, author of "The God Part of the Brain," a book about the neuroscience of belief. "During times of prosperity, we are contented. During times of depression, we go to war. When there isn't enough food to go around, we break into our spiritual tribes and use our gods as justification to kill one another."

While Persinger and Alper count themselves as atheists, many scientists studying the neurology of belief consider themselves deeply spiritual. James Austin, a neurologist, began practicing Zen meditation during a visit to Japan. After years of practice, he found himself having to reevaluate what his professional background had taught him.

"It was decided for me by the experiences I had while meditating," said Austin, author of the book "Zen and the Brain" and now a philosophy scholar at the University of Idaho. "Some of them were quickenings, one was a major internal absorption -- an intense hyper-awareness, empty endless space that was blacker than black and soundless and vacant of any sense of my physical bodily self. I felt deep bliss. I realized that nothing in my training or experience had prepared me to help me understand what was going on in my brain. It was a wake-up call for a neurologist."

The ethical implications of neurotheological research could be quite profound. Indeed, some researchers are now using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to induce "god-like" experiences. Whether or not "God" is an emergent property of interacting neurons or not, one thing is for sure, I doubt we'll ever see the replacement of "In God We Trust" with "In Neurons We Trust" on US currency. Thank God's Neurons.

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March 08, 2004

Santa Fe Institute's Research in Behavioral Sciences

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Posted by Zack Lynch

George Cowan, one of SFI's founding fathers, recently endowed a new program that leverages SFI's extensive research in complex adaptive systems to gain insight into human social and behavioral issues. Five informal workgroups came out of the founding research prioritities meeting that occurred last August in the following areas:

1. Emotion, Cognition and Behavior
2. The Robustness Variation of Sex Differences
3. Insiders, Outsiders and Group Boundaries
4. Inequality as an Emergent Property of Social Interactions
5. Institiutional Innovation and Persistence

Samuel Bowles, coordinator of the event, urged the scientisits onward to create very tangible results. "It isn't just having a good idea that counts...It's coming up with good science that catches and makes a difference."

Celebrating it's 20th anniversary of cutting edge research exploring the boundaries of complexity and chaos, it seems that SFI researchers will surely contribute to the growing discussion around our emerging neurosociety in the coming years.

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March 05, 2004

Think nano has ethical problems? Just wrap your brain around neuro

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Don't miss my article today in small times, a nanotechnology magazine.

What new tools to improve human performance will emerge from the convergence of nanotech, biotech, infotech and cognitive science? Speculating about potential NBIC applications is easy. Developing novel tools that solve real world problems remains hard. My goal is to explore the political and economic issues that might arise as these converging technologies make possible neurotechnology – tools that influence the brain.... (rest of article)

Thanks Howard.

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January 28, 2004

Stanford Alumni Ponder Our Emerging Neurosociety

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Posted by Zack Lynch

When I first started to write about our emerging neurosociety, I thought about starting the book off with a couple of fictional accounts of how individuals across different walks of life would live in a world permeated by neurotechnology. I still have those stories, and they are becoming more real to me each day.

In this month's Stanford Alumni magazine, Joan Hamilton ponders a very similiar future in if they could read your mind. Here is part of her fictional account:

September 12, 2028. Your Local University.

Jean Perry brushes lint off Nick’s blue blazer as they sit down before a gray-haired gentleman in tweeds. This is Nick’s freshman pharmaceutical review board hearing, and Dr. Better is checking Nick’s file. “I have your application here for an Enhancement prescription,” says Dr. Better, “but with .”

“Yes. I’m willing to do that.”

“Doctor,” says Jean, “Nick has never shown any violent tendencies. We just want him to have access to all the same study-aid drugs the other students do.”

“Of course, Mrs. Perry. I believe that will be fine. Now, on another subject, I do have good news. We have reviewed Nick’s learning-sensitivity scans, and we have approved that he be tracked in our more symbolic curriculum.”
your violent tendencies profile, we’ll have to ask you to agree to regular brain scans if we give you something like Ritalin-3 or Focusalin

While I think that Joan's projections are a bit off (by that I mean cogniceuticals to improve learning will be around long before 2028), I still found her wanderings into our future worthy. Read the rest of the article to see what happens on November 30, 2056 at your local hospice.

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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....

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November 07, 2003

Neurotechnology is Macro-Disruption

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Yesterday I met with fellow Corante blogger Renee Hopkins in SF. She reminded me what a macro-scale disruption neurotechnology represents. I recommend reading her most recent thoughts on innovation and disruption at Idea Flow.

It's All Relative -- IS Chapter Two

Here's another one of those counterintuitive statements that, once you think about it, seems perfectly obvious -- "Few technologies or business ideas are intrinsically sustaining or disruptive in character. Rather, their disruptive impact must be molded into strategy as managers shape the idea into a plan and then implement it." Those who would argue for a process view of innovation already undestand this. Innovation is relative to the context in which it occurs.

And even the type of innovation is contextually relative -- "an idea that is disruptive for one business may be sustaining to another."

This chapter also introduces a third contextual dimension to the disruptive innovation model introduced in Dilemma. In this dimension lie the contexts of consumption and competition that give rise to two different kinds of disruptions -- new-market disruptions in which the new technology, service, or product is aimed at introducing new people into the market, and low-end disruptions that attack the least-profitable and most overserved customers.

I still love the endnotes in this book. Check this out from page 70, in a long note pointing out how wrong people were who complained that Dilemma was flawed because sometimes an industry leader manages to avoid being killed by a disruptive competitor. The authors' response: "When we see an airplane fly, it does not disprove the law of gravity."

Links to Innovator's Solution resources

Her chapter 1 thoughts. And for those who are interested in placing a bet on innovation, MIT Technology Review just launched an Innovation Prediction game. Good luck!

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October 30, 2003

The Coming of the Post-Industrial Neurosociety

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Posted by Zack Lynch

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 today’s Henry Ford professor of Sociology at Harvard University, Bell’s 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

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October 14, 2003

The Birth of the Neurocentric Age

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Posted by Zack Lynch

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.

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September 30, 2003

Bravo for Better Brains

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Scientific American's September special issue "Better Brains" provides some important detail on several aspects of our emerging neurosociety.  Here I've highlighted each article's key point and put a link to a Brain Waves post where I came to similar conclusions.   

  • A Vote for Neuroethics - the editors - "Do we really need another subdiscipline of a subdiscipline?  After all, we have bioethics..."  "Our vote is a decided yes for moving ahead.  The technologies of the mind and brain are special..." Accelerating the Neuroethics Discussion

  • The Domesticated Savage - Micheal Shermer - "Like foxes, humans have become more agreeable as we've become more domesticated."...A plausable evolutionary hypothesis suggests itself: limited resources led to the selection for within-group cooperation and between group competition in humans...this bodes well if we can continue to expand the circle of whom we consider to be part of our in-group"   A Relative Emotional Gauge

  • Ultimate Self-Improvement - Gary Stix - "More important, the technology (brain imaging), perhaps coupled with genetic testing will create a more sound basis for diagnosing brain disorders."  Neurotechnology will Define Mental Disorders

  • Brain, Repair Yourself - Fred H. Gage - "The challenge now is to learn more about the specific growth factors that govern the various steps of neurogenesis -- the birth of new cells, the migration of newborn cells to the correct spots, and the maturation of the cells into neurons..." Neurons Love to "Kiss and Run"

  • The Quest for a Smart Pill - Stephen S. Hall - "...there are four million Americans with Alzheimer's disease, another 12 million with a condition called mild cognitive decline and approximately 76 million Americans older than 50, many of whom may satisfy a recent FDA definition for age-associated memory impairment (AAMI), a mild form of forgetfulness." Cogniceuticals to Enhance Memory

  • Stimulating the Brain - Mark S. George - "...the use of rTMS (repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) as a treatment for depression is still considered experimental by the FDA...(but) has already been sanctioned for use in Canada..." Stimulating a Smarter You?

  • Mind Readers - Philip Ross - "Should this concept-recognition system work with even minimal reliability, it might be coupled with lie-detecting fMRI software to produce a much more sophisticated tool.  In principle, law-enforcement officers might use.." When will the Feds Mandate Brain Scans?

  • Taming Stress - Robert Sapolsky - "...such insight carries with it a social imperative: namely, that we find ways to heal a world in which so many people learn that they must always feel watchful and on guard or that they must always feel helpless." Dear Mr. President

  • Diagnosing Disorders - Steven E. Hyman - "By combining neuroimaging with genetic studies, physicians may eventually be able to move psychiatric diagnosis out of the realm of symptom checklists and into the domain of objective medical tests." Neurotechnology will Define Mental Disorders

  • Is Better Best? - Arthur L. Caplan - "It is the essence of humanness to try to improve the world and oneself...the answer is not prohibiting improvement."  "It is ensuring that enhancement is always done by choice, not dictated by others." "Market-driven societies encourage improvement.  Religious and secular cultures alike reward those who seek betterment; every religion on the planet sees the improvement of oneself and one's children as a moral obligation.  If anything, the impending revolution in our knowledge of the brain will require us to build the legal and social institutions that allow fair access to all those who choose to do what most will feel is the right thing to do."  Neuroethics: The Battle for Your Mind

Interesting crossover to say the least.  In my forthcoming book -- Brain Wave: Our Emerging Neurosociety, I build on these issues to weave the future of business, geopolitics and culture in a world driven by neurotechnology.

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July 28, 2003

Play Ethics and Neurosociety

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Posted by Pat

By Pat Kane

[As promised, Pat Kane, author of the forthcoming book "The Play Ethic: Living Creatively in the New Century (MacMillan 2004),  is guest-blogging on Brain Waves this week as Zack Lynch begins the heavy lifting of writing a book of his own.]

It’s a delight to be in this space, as I’ve been an admirer of Zack’s diligent and intelligent blogging for a while now. But it’s perhaps best to start by explaining why a social commentator and musician/consultant/activist like myself, with at best a fan-boy enthusiasm for the Third Culture crossover between humanities and science - is interested in the issue of "neurosociety" (never mind neuro-sociology).

Zack's entry on the neurophysiology of laughter and humour was the main point of contact with my own interest, expressed in my website and forthcoming book The Play Ethic. The title started out as a kind of pun on Max Weber's notion of the Protestant Work Ethic, but has expanded into a multidisciplinary passion for understanding human play in all its forms, traditions and conditions.

One of the reasons I turn to cutting edge mind-science - and admittedly to its more dynamical and emergent than determinist models - is that I'm always trying to unsettle the reductive model of human nature and its capacities implied by the "work ethic", particularly as deployed by opportunist politicians and other neo-Puritan miserables. To be "at play and in play" is not only to have a mentality that is far more suited to a knowledge-intensive information economy: but it's also to deliberately embrace the essential abundance of human consciousness.

The "ethics" of play then become an answer to the old question stated in the 1968 edition of the Whole Earth Review: "We are gods, and we might as well get good at it." This is a world which is ever more constitutively "open" and up for grabs - whether in terms of what Zack calls the "nano-bio-info-cogno" realm of transformative technosciences, or the extreme fluidity of our globalised markets and cultures. Can we become "ethical players" of all these possibilities - rather than cynical manipulators of them, or defeated and angry victims?

So one reason for me to be interested in Zack's agenda is precisely in the area of the cognitive capacity and emotional evolution of the ethical player. (The wisdom contained in the "technologies of self" we often call spiritual traditions - see Francisco Varela and Erik Davis - is another agenda worth exploring). To cope with this carnival universe that we've made, is it enough - as the some evolutionary psychologists would tell you - to rely on the old hominid responses: that repetoire of savannah inheritances, tragic and comic, that have become a consoling pop-science myth for so many people?

Or can we begin to explore, as so much of Zack's linking does, the scary but exciting area of neurosocial innovation? Might carefully-calibrated drugs open new doors of perception, enabling players to participate in all the ramifying games and strategies of information societies, rather than recoil from its chaos and complexity? Certainly, in a society where play became a mainstream rather than a marginal practice, the inhibitions on pursuing cognitive and somatic enhancement would be much reduced, particularly in terms of research investment. (In one of my own specialist areas - music - the relationship between craft, technology, innovation, consciousness and, er, "neuroceuticals" (well, that's one word for them) has long been explored in practice: I hope to pick that up, among other themes, over the next few days).

Any comments and questions, I'd be very happy to receive them.

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July 11, 2003

Harry Potter and the Rise of Kidults

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Pat Kane, author of the forthcoming book The Play Ethic: Living Creatively in the New Century (MacMillan, 2004) has some interesting thoughts today on the future of parenthood:

The Potter books give us all a chance to examine what our relationship with childhood and our children actually is these days. The Play Ethic is interested in “kidult” media – whether Disney theme-parks, or cross-generational toys, or “Graystation” computer games – because they represent a zone within Western family life which is historically unprecedented: parents and children as conscious participants in self-definition, using games and stories and playful objects.

There’s a lot of anguished talk about the “kidult”, mostly on the side of those who have a vested interest in the restoration of a certain hyper-rationalist version of adult authority (which is usually part of a recoil from a whole range of other social and cultural complexities). For what it’s worth, I think it’s a promising field for change – particularly for men. Many might be willing to embrace a more “ludic” and playful identity – whether as singletons or as fathers - as a positive and creative option, rather than something second-best to work culture.

Looking forward, there is an interesting set of questions that revolve around how neuroceuticals will influence family relationships.  Will parents who use emoticeuticals to reduce anger and anxiety at work also choose to use these new tools to help them parent with more empathetically?  Could tools be developed that help stressed out parents/adults become more "kidult"?   Would these new tools be a positive force for change in family relations or might they represent the beginning of new perceptual facade that will compound family social problems?

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July 03, 2003

Express Yourself ;-)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Sharing emotions in cyberspace is about to become a lot easier, and with this humans are taking one more step towards what Manuel Castells calls a world of real virtuality.

"Real virtuality is a system in which reality itself is entirely captured, fully immersed in virtual image setting, in the world of make believe, in which appearances are not just on the screen through which experience is communicated, but they become the experience."

The advance is covered by Steven Johnson in his new Discover article on the creation of There'emotion-supporting virtual chat environment

"As the psychologist Paul Ekman has shown, we are endowed with an extraordinarily nuanced set of facial expressions that convey our inner emotional states, along with even more nuanced perceptual skills for decoding those expressions."

"'s prototype version offers more than 100 different emotional states to choose from—everything from surprise to anger—and it plans to release 10 new emotions per quarter."

Insightfully, Johnson also warns of the downside of virtual emotions:

"We are exploring a comparable threshold point in our perceptual systems today—only this time, the illusion at stake is that of emotion."

As information technology continues to advance rapidly, it will be interesting to see the role that emerging neurotechnologies might play in the sharing of emotions within real virtuality.  Indeed, it looks like we are quickly moving towards DARPA's emotional future.

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July 01, 2003

NYC: The Mind Styling Capital

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Posted by Zack Lynch

If Venice Beach is the world's body sculpting capital and Thailand is the leading center for aesthetic plastic surgery then New York City is emerging as the world's center for mind styling.  Mind styling is the practice of using psychopharmaceuticals to enhance one's perspective. 

Partially driven by the trauma of September 11th, usage of psychopharmaceuticals by New Yorkers has surged relative to the rest of the US:

  • Anti-anxiety prescriptions increased 23% in NYC, compared with an 11% increase nationally
  • Sleeping pills useage jumped 26%, compared with 11% nationally
  • Anti-depressants surged 18%, compared with 3% nationally

The increased abundance of these drugs to treat mental illnesses has lead to broad experimentation for enhancement purposes.  This increase has also decreased the social stigma attached to these mood-improving (not to mention sex-life-improving) drugs.

As a recent New Yorker Magazine cover story describes, "When you relinquish the idea that your moods and weirdnesses are a constant, not to be messed with, any mental unpleasantness becomes fair game for treatment with a touch of this, a milligram of that."

But the creative usage of psychopharmaceuticals—the cocktail party as pill bazaar—is very problematic. These drugs are not designed for enhancement purposes and the side effects can be severe, if not deadly in some cases.

Clearly there is a desire for tools to enhance mental performance (cognition, emotions and sensations) but today it remains illegal to research, develop or market pharmaceuticals for any "non-medical" purpose.

As advances in brain imaging and biochips continue to expand our understanding of mental health, neurotechnology will make possible to develop neuroceuticals that can safely and effectively enhance human mental performance.  Until then, users beware.  

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June 06, 2003

NYC - Neuro York City

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Posted by Zack Lynch

I spent the past five days in the ultimate playground for neurons. Whether you're looking to excite your senses (sights, sounds, smells), emotions (love, joy, sadness), or your more cerebral side (facts, learning, business), NYC has it all.

NYC's greatest asset is its people. Conversations are smart, witty and high value. In a city of 8 million people they have to be. This trip I had the opportunity to have some exceptional conversations with many insightful people, here are a few:

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May 29, 2003

A Severe SARS Scenario

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Since its emergence in November SARS has appeared in over 28 countries and has killed over 750 people. Although the vast majority of infections have been in China and Hong Kong, Canada's continuing outbreaks point out that we may be in for a very difficult fight.  SARS has a death rate of 5-15% depending on age, with people older than 60 taking the brunt of the toll so far. 

What would happen if quarantines don't work and it takes several years to develop an effective vaccine? What if SARS leveraged our six degrees? How might this impact our daily lives?

One report suggests that if SARS spreads unchecked it will rapidly impact many of the poorest nations because of inadequate facilities for monitoring and control. Hundreds of thousands would become infected, resulting in a global pandemic similar to spread of flu each year, infecting perhaps 2-10% of the global population and resulting in up to 30 million deaths.

In another report, Dr. Patrick Dixon, a fellow at the Centre for Management Development at London Business School and a recognized expert on AIDS, takes a rather pessimistic view toward SARS. "While not inevitable, there is a 25% chance of a worldwide SARS pandemic. To give a number to this, he estimates that if current trends continue, it would mean 1 billion SARS cases around the globe within the next 14 months."

UC Berkeley's SARS expert Alison Galvani shares the following: "Though SARS has a low mortality rate, it seems to have a high rate of secondary infections, which is what really determines how damaging a pathogen will be," she says. "People should remember that the Spanish influenza in 1918 had a similar mortality rate but a high rate of secondary infections, and it killed 20 million people."  She notes, too, that the Spanish influenza pandemic occurred when mobility was much more restricted and the world's population was about half that of today. On the other hand, she says, current public health measures are much better than they were 85 years ago.  "The size of the epidemic will depend on how effective control efforts are," she adds.

Note: I am not an alarmist.  However in researching this blog I found very little information regarding the societal implications that a SARS pandemic would unleash or how we'd respond to it. This in itself should cause concern.

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May 28, 2003

Freedom of Style

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Posted by Zack Lynch

This week's Economist cover story highlights how much humans love to look and feel good.  Just a small cottage industry in the early 1900s, today's global beauty industry has blossomed into a $160 billion flower. 

Driving the beauty market is the largest concentration of wealth on the planet.  Aging American baby boomers, 78 million strong and getting older, are not only purchasing more cosmetic products, but are also seeking out whole new types of physical enhancement, including cosmetic surgery on a vast scale. 

Although individual opinions differ about the substance of style, there is no denying that our senses and sense of style influence everything from individual self-perception to the laws we are governed by. 

To explore how human sensory systems influence society, the Gruter Institute is hosting a small conference in two weeks where I look forward to discussing how enhancing human mental health with neuroceuticals will impact how society operates. 

I'm honored to spend several days exploring this and other related issues with:

Neuroceuticals that enable humans to enhance their mental well-being will influence not only the expression of individual style, but also the greater political economic environment we will inhabit. 

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May 14, 2003

DARPA's Emotional Future

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Posted by Zack Lynch

From the people who brought us the Internet, here is one of DARPA's latest proposals.

DARPA SB032-038 TITLE: Integrated System for Emotional State Recognition for the Enhancement of Human Performance and Detection of Criminal Intent. 

OBJECTIVE:  Develop a non invasive emotion recognition system for the detection and categorization of the emotional/stress state of the subject.  The system should be suitable for deployment in military/operational environments or in environments in which discrete observation of potential enemy threats is desired.

Can you recognize deceit? (take the test)

DESCRIPTION:  Humans communicate both intentionally and unintentionally through a variety of emotional expressions.  These expressions are most easily observed in the speech patterns, facial expressions, and body language of the individual.   From these expressions we naturally draw inferences about an individual's hostile or friendly intent, or their level of stress, fatigue, or confusion.  In many circumstances, however, it is difficult or impossible for human observers to make the necessary observations of another's emotional expressions and make reliable assessments of the individual's future actions or capabilities.  The observer's own emotional or psychological states can affect such judgments, or the individual of interest may be in an operational environment that is not conducive to direct observation by others.  In addition, there is information available on the emotional or stress state of the individual that has not yet been explored or exploited; examples of this include thermal imaging of the human face and body and detection of chemosignals (e.g. pheromones, volatile steroids).

Automated emotion detection systems could perform such assessments around the clock and free from personal bias.  Such systems could be used to assess fitness for duty, integrated into closed loop systems regulating user vigilance and workload, or used to detect the sinister intent of individuals and prompt pre-emptive interdictions.  These systems could unobtrusively monitor individuals within military operational environments or crowded civilian settings by relying on passive detection of the emotional aspects of speech, face, and gesture patterns and other novel measurements. 

The current effort would build upon existing technologies and incorporate novel remote sensing technologies to develop systems capable of detecting, categorizing, and responding to the emotional information encoded in humanspeech, facial expressions, gestures and other emitted signals.  Key emotional/cognitive states detected should include, but need not be limited to, anger, drowsiness, anxiety, fear, confusion, disorientation, and frustration.  The necessary systems must be capable of functioning in crowded civilian and/or military/operational environments characterized by high background noise and multiple speech sources and should be sufficiently rugged, light weight, and unobtrusive to function in military/operational environments.  (More)

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April 23, 2003

Neurotechnology before Genetic Engineering

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Bill McKibben's brave new book, Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age explores (excerpt) how human genetic technologies will soon give scientists the ability to re-engineer our children, undermining our common humanity, and leading to a 'posthuman' future.

The human germ-line engineering debate continues to capture the popular imagination, sitting at the core of bioethics debates, while neurotechnology quickly slips into existence.

It is my firm belief that neurotechnology's ability to provide tools that can temporarily influence human emotional, cognitive and sensory states via neuroceuticals will have more profound implications for humanity, in a much nearer time frame, than genetic engineering for several reasons:

  • Regulation and distribution systems are in place:  The FDA and pharmaceutical development and distribution systems are already globally refined, tested and trusted processes
  • Social acceptance is proven: Humans are already using early forms of neuroceuticals on a vast scale.  For example, 17% of the US white-collar work force is currently using anti-depressants. 

Humans will perform germ-line engineering on other organisms on vast scale, but human germ-line engineering won't become widely accepted until significant experimentation with less permanent tools helps people learn exactly what traits they would want their progeny to exhibit. 

Moreover, as neurotechnology becomes more precise and flexible, it may indeed turn out that humans will choose neurotechnology over genetic engineering to enhance themselves and their offspring.  Instead of debating the bioethics of germ-line engineering, we really should be focusing on the neuroethics of neurotechnology.

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April 10, 2003

Religious Comparative Advantage

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Posted by Zack Lynch

America's brightest bioscience researchers are shutting down their labs and moving to "friendlier" grounds.  In a small effort to slow this talent outflow, Stanford recently launched the Institute for Cancer/Stem Cell Biology and Medicine with a $12 million private donation.  Because the work is funded with private money it is not against federal rulings prohibiting stem cell research. 

This is a nice gesture, but it fails to recognize what the Guardian points out, "that creationists, pro-lifers and conservatives now pose a serious threat to research and science teaching in the US."

As the biosciences rapidly advance, many long-held sacred beliefs are being challenged. Neurotechnology and the battle for your mind will only accentuate differences in religious driven legislation. 

Certain regions will choose not to take advantage of new knowledge, holding their respective moral ground.  Other geographies will go the other direction and become mecca's of bioscience exploration and development.

I'm still working through the logic behind my thinking, but it seems to me that monotheistic-based societies will likely have a harder time politically sorting through where they stand on these issues, slowing overall bioscience development in those regions.

Regions that are predominately polytheistic-based should have an easier time exploring the augmentation of the "natural" world.   Dana Blankenhorn seems to agree that if this holds some truth, look for places like Japan, China and India to become bioscience hotbeds with elaborately supported government funded research. 

On a positive note, it is good to see that today there is a U.S Senate hearing on brain science (thanks Sarah).

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April 03, 2003

Our Emerging Human/PostHuman Society

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Posted by Zack Lynch

What does it mean to be human?  Francis Fukuyama in Our PostHuman Future claims it's Factor X

"That is, Factor X cannot be reduced to the possession of moral choice, or reason, or language, or sociability, or sentience, or emotions, or consciousness, or any other quality that has been put forth as a ground for human dignity. It is all of these qualities coming together in a human whole that make up Factor X. Every member of the human species possesses a genetic endowment that allows him or her to become a whole human being, an endowment that distinguishes a human in essence from other types of creatures."

I'm not sure I completely agree with this definition, but it is good enough for this discussion. 

As neurotechnology advances, a new set of tools will emerge that will help humans to better control our emotional, cognitive and sensory states.  As these tools begin to influence social interaction, are we really becoming something else, say...posthuman, or are we actually becoming something else....more human?

Human gets my vote.  By providing entirely new ways to accentuate and differentiate those qualities that each of us chooses to decide what makes us human, neuroceuticals will provide humans the ability to experience life unconstrained from their evolutionarily determined neural chemistry.

Emotions, whether you acknowledge it or not, drive most of our decisions. Fear and anger easily bump conscious thoughts out of our awareness. Wishing that anxiety or depression would go away just doesn’t work.

By referring to our common future as a "Human Future,"  rather than our "PostHuman Future" it might be possible to extend the community of interest that would participate in the relevant and important discussions that will shape the boundaries of choice for years to come. 

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March 28, 2003

Neurowarfare: A Non-lethal Second Chance?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Chemical and biological weapons treaties rightly ban deadly agents like VX, mustard gas and anthrax.  These same treaties also ban any research on non-lethal agents, a consequence that governments might want to consider reviewing.

The cost of the Iraq War and reconstruction will easily top $500B. This fiscal cost does not even begin to address the mental and physical toll on civilians, soldiers and families.  If the goal is regime change, not mass killing and destruction, shouldn't coalition forces use every resource at their disposal to achieve this goal? What would happen if research money flowed into developing effective sleeping agents, instead of targeted bombs that kill?

A 24 hour sleep-inducing fog over Baghdad could save countless lives and save hundreds of billions of dollars.  Think about it.  Put Baghdad to sleep.  Storm the city, deal with radically less resistance, tie soldier's up, and walk out the Iraqi regime relatively unharmed (and I do mean for both sides).  A valuable side effect of this strategy would be that Iraqi troops, who might have gas masks to protect themselves but who are also embedding themselves throughout the civilian population, would stand out among sleeping Iraqi civilians.  Obviously, this is a ridiculously simplified example, but point is there.

This type of scenario won't happen in this war, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't in the future.  Unfortunately, this scenario is not even being discussed or considered.  Last year the Rand Corporation delivered a 2015 technology forecast to the National Intelligence Council which informs the US military and government agencies on emerging technologies.  A glaring omission in this report was any mention of developments occurring in neurotechnology.

The development of non-lethal weapons is far less advanced than lethal weapons as was seen last October when Russian special forces used "sleeping agents" to quell a terrorist attack. War is horrible, but wouldn't it be a step in the right direction if we began to see the proliferation of non-lethal weapons instead of the deadly weapons used today? 

Clearly what I am proposing will cause alarm, but a significant public conversation around this subject might yield some important insights and potentially save countless lives in the years to come.

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March 10, 2003

What Gets a Soldier Killed?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The average U.S. soldier outside of Iraq today carries 160 lbs of gear. DARPA, the open government agency that brought us the Internet and is now gestating bleeding-edge research to enhance solider performance, is trying to change this through a program called "Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation."

Just as Arpanet was once a government-only technology, many of the neurotechnology breakthroughs being developed by DARPA today will in time find their way into everyday use.

Other programs worth checking out: Augmented Cognition, Metabolic Dominance, Continuous Assisted Performance, and Persistence in Combat.

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March 03, 2003

What is Neurotechnology?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

The neurotechnology industry includes companies researching, developing and marketing pharmaceuticals, biologics, medical devices, as well as diagnostic and surgical equipment for the treatment of neurological and psychiatric illnesses.

NeuroInsights has identified three sectors within the $100 billion industry:
neuropharmaceuticals, neurodevices and neurodiagnostics. Neurotechnology companies face fundamentally different investment requirements, research and development challenges, regulatory milestones and social drivers that sets them apart from other life science and health care companies.

See for more information on the neurotechnology industry.

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