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This is Your Brain on Neurotechnology
Mike Treder   Aug 24, 2009   h+ Magazine  

An Interview with Zack Lynch, author of The Neuro Revolution.

Zack Lynch is the author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World. The book was conceived as a work of popular science “to broaden the conversation” on what Lynch characterizes as the coming neurosociety. Lynch looks at how neurotechnology—the emerging science of brain imaging and other new tools for both understanding and influencing our brains—will impact the financial markets, law enforcement, politics, advertising and marketing, artistic expression, warfare, and even the nature of human spirituality.

Lynch, founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization, also serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. He earned an M.A in economic geography, and a double B.S. in evolutionary biology and environmental science with high honors from UCLA. His master’s thesis examined how the Internet transforms communications and commerce.

Here are a couple of excerpts from an interview conducted with Lynch by h+ magazine...

h+: You characterize the Neuro Revolution as the next revolution after the agricultural, industrial, and information revolutions. Others have characterized the Nanotechnology Revolution (for example, the ability to assemble goods at the molecular level) as such a paradigm-shattering period. Do you see a relationship between these two upcoming “revolutions?”

ZACK LYNCH: Nanotechnology is an enabling technology that will fundamentally drive progress in the neurotech sector. What makes this fundamentally unique, and why the neurotechnology revolution is so profoundly important, is that we are directing our informational and nano technologies at an entirely new domain of human progress: tools for the human mind.

We’ve spent human history—the past several thousand years as I said in the book—developing tools to improve our physical world. Now we are focused on developing tools that will take our wisdom, knowledge, and capital to develop tools that will improve our inner domain. Nanotechnology will be used to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of drugs, devices, diagnostics, and brain imaging technologies.

h+: So you envision that humans will still be in the loop as decision makers rather than supercomputers making sophisticated trading decisions?

ZL: Right. When things like trading become completely automated over time it’s because they’re based on models. However, the models don’t capture all the elements of our world. And part of what drives financial markets—which is what I try to get across in the chapter “Finance with Feelings” – is human emotions.

So theoretically, if you have a financial market where there are no human actors, then computers will be making the decisions. In reality, however, human emotions will sway the market. We need to figure out how to work with those emotions to understand how they actually influence the financial markets, and then leverage them. Emotions are very sophisticated computational algorithms that have been developed through hundreds of millions of years of evolution. They allow us to cut through a tremendous amount of information and give us instantaneous feedback on what we should be doing.



Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.


As I pointed out in my Amazon review of Lynch’s book, Lynch reveals some unexamined pro-status quo biases. Do we really need financial speculators, like the ones who’ve created the current disaster, to do all this trading so urgently that we have to neuro enhance them? (Would we even notice the difference if these speculators took a lot more time off?) Does it serve society’s best interests to have companies engage in neuro marketing research, using fMRI’s and such, so that they can more effectively sell us crap we don’t need and can’t afford? Do we really need, short of a science fictional invasion by hostile AI’s or space aliens, to create metabolically dominant warriors who can kill people and break things for days at a stretch without remorse, fatigue or the need to sleep? (You wouldn’t necessarily want men like those patrolling the streets in your own country to enforce domestic martial law, or as occupiers from a hostile foreign country.)

I take special exception to Lynch’s view that the neuro technologies industry could turn empathy and “spirituality” into commodities. I want corporations to leave my consciousness alone, thank you.

Neuro technologies have a lot of interesting potential, but they won’t necessarily make our lives better if we use them to enhance people who currently do arguably useless or harmful things so that they can do them more efficiently.

Re Mark Plus’s query: speculators indeed perform a very valuable economic function: anticipating future changes in supply and demand, reacting now, and thereby smoothing the transition to those future conditions.

E.g., if speculators (who compete for best advance information) recognize a looming shortfall of wheat, they buy wheat now, to sell when the shortfall hits, thus raising the price a bit now and thus both keeping some supply in reserve (the supply they are holding) and encouraging less use now, by virtue of the price-rise now that they engendered. Shorter version: speculators smooth out markets, converting what would be disruptive spikes into gradual inclines (or declines).

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