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> A Chat about Neurotechnology with Zack Lynch
post May 22, 2004, 12:38 PM
Post #1


Every Friday I post a new E-mail chat with a forward-looking thinker about the road ahead. Today, our Friday Forward prognosticator is Zack Lynch, a principal at NeuroInsights, an analysis firm focusing on the nascent neurotechnology industry. Lynch also writes a popular daily column, "BrainWaves: Neurons, Bits and Genes." His forthcoming book, Neurosociety: How Brain Science Will Shape the Future of Business, Politics, and Culture, will be published in 2005.

Next News: What is the current state of neuroscience? Give me a feel for where we are right now.

Lynch: We have learned more about the human brain in the past five years than in the previous 25. The reason for this dramatic increase comes from the convergence of information being created by two technologies. First, from the outside, today's brain imaging technologies now make it possible to track the electrical and chemical activity occurring across the brain in real time. This means that we can distinguish the parts of the brain that are involved in different kinds of emotions and thoughts. Second, breakthroughs in biotechnology allow neuroscientists to understand what is occurring inside the cells in the brain. Using both of these technologies, neuroscientists are now able to look at the brain from both the outside and inside. I call this the "Reese's Peanut Butter Cup effect," because just like chocolate plus peanut butter creates a better result than either one alone, so too do brain imaging and biotechnology create a much clearer understanding of the brain.

Next News: What real-world application do you see stemming from advances in neuroscience over the next five years or so?

Lynch: The most important application will go toward developing better tools for treating mental illnesses. Today, five of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide—major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, substance abuse, and obsessive-compulsive disorders—are mental issues. These problems are as relevant in developing countries as they are in rich ones. And all predictions point toward a dramatic increase in mental illnesses as people live longer. In the next five years, neurotechnology tools that influence the human brain will prevent memory loss in aging baby boomers. Memory Pharmaceuticals is one recently public company that is currently working on this problem. We are also going to see the development of "neuroceuticals" that will enable the average worker to perform their daily activities in a safer and more effective manner. A good example of this is Provigil, short for "promotes vigilance." Provigil was originally developed to keep narcoleptics from falling asleep. But recently, the FDA approved its use for shift-line workers and truck drivers. This is just the beginning of a much larger trend, where safe neuroceuticals will be used by common individuals to enable them to perform their work more effectively. As neurotechnology becomes more precise, all aspects of business, including the art of marketing, will be reinvented. Using brain imaging, marketing firms will use brain imaging to understand how and why people buy different products. But "neuromarketing" has a long way to go before we can predict a person's purchasing decisions. But with billions of dollars at stake, the search for the brain's "buy button" will definitely be an area of heavy investment.

Next News: OK, let's be a bit more speculative. What are the possible applications over the next five to 10 years and their impact?

Lynch: Like any new technology, neurotechnology represents both promises and problems. On the upside, we will see new cures for mental illness and expanded opportunities for economic growth. Yet these same technologies raise important ethical questions, especially around brain privacy and your freedom to think about what you want. For example, should the government be able to scan your brain as you walk through an airport to detect if you have been thinking about illegal activities? Simply thinking about an issue, any issue, is not the same as acting on it. Neuroethicists at think tanks like the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics are working hard to promote legislation to protect our freedom to think, without unnecessary government intrusion. Brain privacy is an issue that will come to the forefront of ethics and politics in the coming years.

Next News: What kind of computer do you own?

Lynch: An IBM R32 ThinkPad with DVD, wireless card. It's a solid machine.

Next News: What is the most recent electronic device that you have purchased?

Lynch: An Olympus Digital Voice Recorder DS-330. It's like having Tivo in every meeting.

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

Lynch: To keep me abreast of the latest scientific research and how it might impact society, I turn to Randall Parker, who writes "Future Pundit." For an overview of global mental health issues, I visit "Pulse Mental Health," a weblog that gathers mental health news information from across the world. Lastly, I read through some of the blogs at Corante and at TechCentral Station for intelligent analysis of today's news.

Next News: What is the last book you read that gave you some insight into the road ahead?

Lynch: Better Than Prozac: Creating the Next Generation of Psychiatric Drugs (Oxford University Press) by Sam Barondes, the head of Biopsychiatry at UCSF. Dr. Barondes lucidly explains how hard it has been to develop psychiatric medications that work. But he gives hope for the future as advances in brain imaging and biotechnology will make it possible to design neuroceuticals that will be based on knowing the molecular mechanisms of memory and emotions. It's a must-read for anyone who is concerned about the future of mental health.

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post May 22, 2004, 12:39 PM
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somehow, I don't think the phrase, "Reese's Peanut Butter Cup effect", is going to catch on.
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