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November 16, 2004

What Drives Great Surges of Development?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Carlota Perez has a clue:

"Great surges of development represent the gradual integral transformation of both the techno-economic and the socio-institutional spheres of the social system, through the assimilation a cluster of converging technologies. A great surge leads to structural changes in production, distribution, communication and consumption, leading to profound qualitative social changes. Society, in turn, influences the path taken by the revolution."

Earlier this year the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published The Coevolution of Human Potential and Converging Technologies. It is a compendium of 16 papers that discuss different aspects of the 2003 NBIC conference held in Los Angeles.

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July 20, 2004

Forecasting the Neurosociety

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Posted by Zack Lynch

I have spent the past few weeks writing a chapter on neuropolicy for a book on converging technologies. Here is a small excerpt about the model I use to understand our emerging neurosociety:

"If forecasting a specific event or potential success of a new technology is difficult, then how can we confidently conceptualize the ways that converging technologies will impact society? Most attempts at long-term social forecasting fall short because they extrapolate isolated technical advances occurring in one or two industries with little regard to other equally powerful agents of change.

While technology is a primary initiator of societal change, it also coevolves within a socio-cultural landscape not completely of its own making. Effective social forecasting on the scale of decades involves developing qualitative scenarios that are informed by the historical interplay of technology, economics, politics and culture while remaining open to novel future conditions and combinations.

The model I use to understand the societal implications of converging technologies is not reductionist. Instead it is a way of ordering and examining historical processes in order to illuminate some recurrent tendencies that can be used to understand our past, present and future. The roots of this model grow out of the observations made by the Russian economist Nikolai Kondratieff and the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter who in 1920s and 1930s described half-century long waves of economic growth and decline reaching back to the 1700s. In more recent decades, economic historians Chris Freeman and Carlota Perez have expanded the model to encompass political and social trends through to the current information revolution. I extend this model further in order to understand the neurotechnology wave (2010-2060).

Here is what W. Brian Arthur, Citibank Professor at Santa Fe Institute thinks of the model that Perez has developed:

‘Before I read this book I thought that the history of technology was – to borrow Churchill’s phrase – merely “one damned thing after another”. Not so. Carlota Perez shows us that historically technological revolutions arrive with remarkable regularity, and that economies react to them in predictable phases. Her argument provides much needed perspective not just on history, but on our own times. And especially on our own information revolution.’

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June 15, 2004

Long Living Humans Require Better Tools for Mental Health

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Posted by Zack Lynch

In a recent Fortune article, The End of Aging, Aubrey de Grey boldly predicts that life spans will increase dramatically in the coming years. Needless to say, his thoughts have created quite a bit of conversation (see the 100 comments logged on Randall Parker's de Grey post).

So what if Aubrey is right?

As people live physically longer and healthier lives, mental health will become the preeminent social and political issue of our time. Living longer physically does not mean living in better mental health. Mental health is the springboard of thinking, communication skills, learning, emotional growth, resilience, and self-esteem.

With longer life spans, the potential for mental illness follows. For example, dementia, the loss of function in multiple cognitive domains, increases with age. The largest number of persons with dementia occurs in people in their early eighties. As the number of people living over 80 years explodes to over 20% of the US population by 2040, dementia will take over as the leading cause of disability. That is, if appropriate tools for stemming cognitive decline, cogniceuticals, don't materialize.

Today, five of the ten leading causes of disability worldwide (major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, alcohol use and obsessive compulsive disorders) are mental illnesses. A recent report titled, Prevalence, Severity, and Unmet Need for Treatment of Mental Disorders in the World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys shows that they are relevant in poor countries as they are in rich ones, and all predictions point to a dramatic increase in mental illness.

Neurotechnology will play the leading role in defining, diagnosing and treating mental health problems in the coming years as concerns about life expectancy turn towards the issues related to mental health expectancy.

Update: A nice fact I learned from Bobbi Low at Gruter: life spans of different organisms across the planet range from 5 minutes to 300 years.

Update 8/16/04: "Earth's oldest living thing is a bristlecone pine in California that's been around for an estimated 4,7000 years" (Deborah Gangloff, Executive Director of the American Forests journal). Thanks Brandon.

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February 12, 2004

Lynch's 15 Laws of the Neurosociety

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Each year John Brockman at the Edge poses a thought provoking question to the world community to ponder and answer. Last year's question was "What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I (the President) can begin to deal with them?" My response...Dear Mr. President.

The question for 2004 is: "What is Your Law?"

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

Empathy

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.

(see my talk at NBIC conference on Feb 26th in NYC)

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February 10, 2004

Emergent Democracy, Participatory Economics and Social Software

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Posted by Zack Lynch

By viewing history as a series of techno-economic waves with accompanying socio-political responses it is possible to understand how new technologies shape human society.

As Brian Arthur has successfully argued, the information technology wave has reached the golden age. While the global infrastructure build-out marches on, the socio-political impact of IT continues to gain momentum.

The growing emergent democracy movement provides an excellent example of how IT's latest innovation, social software, is reshaping the political landscape. Yesterday's digital democracy teach-in at E-tech used social software to share and capture the latest emergent democracy issues in the US, developing nations, and across the world.

While the political ideals underlying emergent democracy are crystallizing quickly (e.g. emergent democracy is not direct democracy) it has yet to define or adopt an economic framework to compliment its goals. One perspective that shares some similarities is participatory economics, or parecon.

Parecon is being touted as an economic alternative to capitalism and socialism. According to Michael Albert's recent treatise, Parecon: Life After Capitalism, a participatory economy is a democratic economy. "People control their own lives to appropriate degrees. Each person has a level of say that doesn’t impinge on other people having the same level of say. We impact decision in proportion as we are affected by them." (see case studies from the Balkans and Argentina.)

Parecon is built on four key values:

Solidarity: Economies affect how people interact. They affect the broad attitudes people have toward one another.
Diversity: Economies affect the range of options that people have in their work and in consumption.
Equity: Economies affect the distribution of output among actors. They determine our budgets or what share of the social product we receive.
Self-management: Economics affect how much say each actor has in decisions about production, consumption, and allocation.

It is important to note that I have many problems with Albert's vision of parecon, including: the innovative capacity of job complexes; the effective implementation of cross-cultural resource allocation mechanisms; and his static view of human nature (just to name a few). However....

Evolving social software represents the technological glue that can tie emergent democracy and participatory economics into a functional political economic alternative. Indeed, both participatory economics and emergent democracy inherently depend upon a global information infrastructure that supports transparent information exchange and collaborative decision-making across multiple social and geographic scales (i.e. social software).

So while social software continues to prove itself within businesses, its impact on our political lives in only just beginning.

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December 10, 2003

Plows, Bronze and Wheels

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Posted by Zack Lynch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments (3) | Category: NeuroWave 2050

December 04, 2003

What's Next, A Nano or Neuro Wave?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Here is my bet:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments (8) | Category: NeuroWave 2050

September 11, 2003

Social Forecasting?

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Posted by Zack Lynch

A bit from my forthcoming book...Brain Wave: Our Emerging Neurosociety


People do a very poor job of predicting the future.  Take Lord Kelvin, the physicist and president of the British Royal Society, who in 1895 insisted, “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” Or Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Corporation who in 1977 proclaimed, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” 


Inventors also don’t usually understand the potential of their technologies.  “The phonograph…is not of commercial value,” Thomas Edison declared after he had invented it in 1880. And it’s not just inventors or high tech executives that get it wrong.  People who are supposed to be on the cutting edge of cultural consciousness predict just as poorly, as a Decca Recording Company executive showed in 1962 after turning down the Beatles, “We don’t like their sound.  Groups of guitars are on the way out.”


Even as teams of highly educated professionals we often miss the mark. “A severe depression like that of 1920-1921 is outside the range of probability,” stated the Harvard Economic Society on November 16th 1929, just weeks before the Great Depression began.  Not even the computer scientists working on the Internet in the early 1970s could imagine that it would become a medium of global commerce by the end of the century.


If forecasting a specific event or new technology is difficult, then how is it possible to try to predict where human society will go next? 


Stay tuned...

Comments (2) | Category: NeuroWave 2050

August 15, 2003

Electricity, Steel and Skyscrapers (1870 - 1920)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

(a bit from my book)


After almost a century of research into the nature electricity, the 1870s would be the decade when the cluster of innovations that made the new electricity infrastructure emerged -- alternators, dynamos, generators, transformers, switch gear, and power distribution systems.


As broad implementation plans were being planned in the 1870s, smaller scale electrification projects began to slowly revolutionize industry after industry.  Low cost, high quality steel was one of the first products cheap electricity made possible.  Radical process innovations such as Bessemer and Siemens steel processes used inexpensive electricity to manufacture low cost steel on a mass scale. 


Steel and electricity changed society, reshaping how humans lived in close urban quarters.  Until the 1880s few buildings were ever built more than five stories tall, but with the emergence of abundant and strong steel, skyscrapers were born.  In 1883 the first building to employ steel skeleton construction was Home Insurance Building in Chicago, reaching an amazing 25 stories. The subsequent erection in Chicago of a number of similar buildings made it the center of the early skyscraper architecture. By 1913, New York began to edge out Chicago in the race for dominance with the construction of the Woolworth Building that reached an incredible 60 stories. 


It wasn’t just steel frame construction that made skyscrapers possible. The “electric lift”, invented in 1886, was also needed to replace hydraulic lifts that could not go higher than five stories.   At the same time, the telephone supported the skyscraper economy by making it possible for people to communicate among the new high rises.  From 1890 to 1900, the number of telephones in use surged in the United States from 200,000 to over 1.5 million, most of which were deployed in newly constructed skyscrapers.


As cities built upwards, they also extended downwards.  Taking advantage of the growing electrical network, urban electric railroads and underground railroads emerged.  From 1887 to 1900, London built a massive urban underground electric railway system whose highly engineered cars were built from inexpensive steel and moved through concrete ‘tubes.’  Across the Atlantic, the United States also leveraged the developing electricity infrastructure.  Over a fifteen-year period from 1890 to 1905, city transit lines powered by electricity grew from 15 percent to over 90 percent. 


With the invention of the electric light bulb in 1878 and further refinements including the carbon filament lamp, electric power stations found entirely new markets in public and domestic household illumination, replacing toxic and inefficient the gas lanterns that had to be constantly refilled. The diffusion of electric lighting across cities and towns for use in stadiums, factories, offices, and along walkways forever changed public and private lives. 

Comments (0) | Category: NeuroWave 2050

July 24, 2003

The Neurotechnology Wave (2010-2060)

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Before I take a few weeks to focus on my book, I'm posting a paper I wrote that was recently accepted by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.  I, like James Canton's paper on human performance enhancement, wrote the piece as part of the NBIC conference which I blogged extensively.  It is a short two-page paper that sits at the core of my book and the Brain Waves blog.


The nascent neurotechnology wave (2010-2060) is being accelerated by the development of biochips and brain imaging technologies that make biological 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. (check out the rest in the PDF)


I'll be discussing the topic in more detail at the Bay Area Futurist Salon on August 15th.  Until then, enjoy the upcoming guest bloggers.

Comments (9) | Category: NeuroWave 2050

May 19, 2003

IT Competitive Advantage, Hardly Over

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Posted by Zack Lynch

May's Harvard Business Review article, "IT Doesn't Matter," argues that information technology is inevitably headed in the same direction as the railroads, the telegraph, electricity and the internal combustion engine.  From a long-term standpoint (10-25 years) I tend to agree, but at its core this article's argument is too simplistic to be useful in the near-term.

Most importantly there is no mention of what form competitive advantage might take next, a discussion that is a primary focus of my forthcoming book, Brain Wave.

"All of these industrial technologies aged from their boom-time youth to become, in economic terms, ordinary factors of production, or "commodity inputs," the article noted. "From a strategic standpoint, they became invisible; they no longer mattered," wrote Nicholas G. Carr, editor at large of The Harvard Business Review. "That is exactly what is happening to information technology today."

IT will always matter, just as the wheel, railroads and electricity remain critical infrastructures underpinning the functioning of today's global economy.  When a train brakes down it shuts down just-in-time supply chains.  When a black out occurs entire cities stop dead in their tracks. 

In fact, slight gradations in infrastructure stability will continue to drive the regional comparative advantage that companies rely on to stay on the cutting edge of competitive advantage.  Just look at Singapore's meteoric rise over the past two decades and the competitive advantage companies accrued as a result of its heavy IT investment. 

Using the history of techno-economic waves as his guide, Economist Brain Arthur suggests that the next 10-15 years will in fact witness a massive built out of the global IT infrastructure, albeit as Brad Delong notes, at lower profit margins.  During this time new forms of IT competitive advantage will continue to emerge as IT adapts to humans rather than us having to adapt to it.

For instance, although not a punctuated leap in competitive advantage, social software has the potential to accrue significant value for companies that leverage its potential to accelerate innovation. In some industries, two product cycles can be the difference between corporate life and death.

For example, decreasing innovation cycle times in the pharmaceutical industry by 10% could slash years off product research, development and approval processes.  When translated into revenue and market capitalization impacts, intelligent adoption of social software could significantly disrupt the balance of power in this multi-billion dollar industry.  Who says IT competitive advantage is dead?

More importantly, increasing IT efficiency remains critically important if the supporting infrastructure for the next form of competitive advantage is to arise. As Charles Delisi mentioned at a Santa Fe Institute meeting, "there is no way the past ten years of advances in genomics would have been possible without the computational capabilities brought forth by the microchip."

Imagine if electricity efficiency remained at 1920's levels, would microchips; cell phones or the Internet even be possible?  Just as electricity efficiency still matters, so too will IT for some time to come. 


So the real question still remains...what will be the next form of competitive advantage?  Stay tuned.

Comments (2) | Category: NeuroWave 2050

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.

Comments (0) | Category: NeuroWave 2050 | Neurosociety

April 15, 2003

The Next Techno-Economic Wave

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Posted by Zack Lynch

By viewing history as a series of techno-economic waves with accompanying socio-political responses it is possible to begin to understand how new technologies impact society. 


Techno-economic waves are driven by the development of a new low-cost input like the microchip.  A single new low cost product with a continuously declining price and wide availability can ignite entirely new industries, solving what previously were believed to be intractable problems. Moreover, the new technological systems built upon the new inputs shift competitive behavior across the economy, as older sectors reinterpret how they create value. 


New low cost inputs become driving sectors in their own right (e.g. canals, coal, electricity, oil, microchips).  When combined with complementary technologies, each new low cost input also stimulates the development of new sectors (e.g. cotton textiles, railroads, electric products, automobiles, computers).  Technological waves, because they embody a major jump up in productivity, open up an unusually wide range of investment and profit opportunities, leading to sustained rates of economic growth.


So how might neurotechnology fit in this picture?

Comments (0) | Category: NeuroWave 2050

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 www.neuroinsights.com for more information on the neurotechnology industry.

Comments (0) | Category: NeuroWave 2050 | Neurosociety | Neurotech Industry