Finally, the Digital Revolution meets the Human Brain



Our brain is at the core of every­thing we do. How can the technology around us better interact with our brains, and enhance them?

Our brain is at the core of every­thing we do, from the every-day deci­sions we make to the epic emo­tions we feel when we fall in love. Given its vital role in our lives, it is great news that two of the most well-funded research pro­grams in the world focus on the brain sci­ences: the Human Brain Project, a $1 bil­lion euro project funded by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion; and the White House-led Brain Research through Advanc­ing Inno­v­a­tive Neu­rotech­nolo­gies (BRAIN) Ini­tia­tive, a $100M+ USD effort.

The tech sec­tor is like­wise wit­ness­ing an unprece­dented explo­sion in brain-related tech­nol­ogy, both in the amount of dol­lars invested as well as the vari­ety of novel appli­ca­tions developed–ranging from car-based sen­sors detect­ing and min­i­miz­ing inat­ten­tive dri­ving, to vir­tual real­ity sys­tems dis­cern­ing con­sumer brain responses for yet-to-be-build prod­ucts, to audio head­sets that can detect your mood and adjust music to lift you up.

Rel­e­vant patent fil­ings have soared in num­ber — from 800 in 2010 to 1,600 last year. Neurotechnologies—at least those that, being non-invasive, pose few if any neg­a­tive side-effects—are likely to become ubiq­ui­tous, pervasive.

Why does this matter?

To pre­dict the future, it helps to exam­ine one key lead­ing indi­ca­tor of tech invest­ment: patent activ­ity. For exam­ple, in 2012, Google filed a patent appli­ca­tion for a glucose-sensing con­tact lens to assist dia­betic mon­i­tor­ing of blood sugar lev­els. A cou­ple of years later, Google pre­sented a pro­to­type of the device and revealed a part­ner­ship with biotech leader Novar­tis to com­mer­cial­ize the smart con­tact lens.

Neu­rotech­nol­ogy patents reveal sim­i­lar insights. Sev­eral years after receiv­ing this patent for biosens­ing wear­able tech to com­mu­ni­cate with house­hold devices, Philips announced this proof of con­cept devel­oped with Accen­ture for a brain-wave read­ing head­set appli­ca­tion to con­trol home tele­vi­sions and light­ing merely by thought. And both Philips and Accen­ture have been active fil­ing for rel­e­vant patents, which sug­gest in short order we will see an inno­v­a­tive solu­tion that can poten­tially improve the lives of 400,000+ peo­ple suf­fer­ing from Amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­ro­sis (ALS), the debil­i­tat­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tion com­monly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Our new report on Per­va­sive Neu­rotech­nol­ogy & Intel­lec­tual Prop­erty reveals over 8,000 active issued patents and 5,000 pend­ing appli­ca­tions, illus­trat­ing a flour­ish­ing range of non-invasive neu­rotech­nolo­gies span­ning med­i­cine, enter­tain­ment, busi­ness and beyond…going well beyond the tra­di­tional realms of med­i­cine and academia.

Under the radar, brain­wave read­ing tech­nolo­gies are being patented by IT giants such as Microsoft and IBM, try­ing to cre­ate a tech­no­log­i­cal ecosys­tem that works WITH our brains — rather than AGAINST them.These patents, for exam­ple, describe new approaches to improve pro­duc­tiv­ity through tech­niques like block­ing dis­tract­ing noti­fi­ca­tions from some­one whose brain sig­nals indi­cate they are highly focused on a par­tic­u­lar task.

Our con­sump­tion behav­iors are also being affected by neu­rotech­nol­ogy. Consumer-research behe­moth Nielsen has an entire neu­ro­science divi­sion ded­i­cated to mea­sur­ing con­sumers at their most fun­da­men­tal level — their brain activ­ity. Nielsen patents show neu­rotech­nol­ogy appli­ca­tions incor­po­rat­ing mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary approaches with other cutting-edge tech­nolo­gies such as vir­tual real­ity sys­tems, and even how these same research approaches could be used to improve home-based healthcare.

Improv­ing tech­nol­ogy, improv­ing ourselves

But neu­rotech­nol­ogy isn’t just geared towards mon­i­tor­ing brain activ­ity. Sig­nif­i­cant ven­ture fund­ing and patent activ­ity is being directed at prod­ucts that can enhance brain func­tion­ing through neu­rocog­ni­tive train­ing and through cutting-edge (and not fully tested) mag­netic and elec­tri­cal stim­u­la­tion devices. While ten of the twenty top neu­rotech IP hold­ers are pub­licly traded com­pa­nies, start-up Thync raised $13M dol­lars from Khosla Ven­tures and other investors in 2014 to com­mer­cial­ize tran­scra­nial stim­u­la­tion as the “new cof­fee” for a main­stream audience.

Sci­ence fic­tion? Well, the com­pany released its first prod­uct last week.

As Zack Lynch, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor and Founder of the Neu­rotech­nol­ogy Indus­try Orga­ni­za­tion puts it:

[Neu­rotech­nol­ogy] is a dis­rup­tive force that will impact major parts of every indus­try, cre­at­ing new oppor­tu­ni­ties for entre­pre­neurs, com­pa­nies, and investors on the cut­ting edge to take lead­er­ship roles in upgrad­ing enter­tain­ment, health, edu­ca­tion, well­ness and more.

It no doubt will. It will also present chal­lenges for con­sumer and pro­fes­sion­als who want to under­stand what works and what doesn’t–even what “works” means in the new context.

At the end of his lat­est book, The Inno­va­tors: How a Group of Hack­ers, Geniuses, and Geeks Cre­ated the Dig­i­tal Rev­o­lu­tion, Wal­ter Isaac­son wrote that

The next phase of the Dig­i­tal Rev­o­lu­tion will bring even more new meth­ods of mar­ry­ing tech­nol­ogy with the cre­ative indus­tries, such as media, fash­ion, music, enter­tain­ment, edu­ca­tion, lit­er­a­ture, and the arts… This inno­va­tion will come from peo­ple who are able to link beauty to engi­neer­ing, human­ity to tech­nol­ogy, and poetry to proces­sors. In other words, it will come from the spir­i­tual heirs of Ada Lovelace, cre­ators who can flour­ish, where the arts inter­sect with the sci­ences and who have a rebel­lious sense of won­der that opens them to the beauty of both.

It is high time for the Dig­i­tal Rev­o­lu­tion and the Human Brain to meet each other.

Good news. #Per­va­siveNeu­rotech has arrived.

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez, named a Young Global Leader by the World Eco­nomic Forum, runs Sharp­Brains, an inde­pen­dent mar­ket research firm track­ing health and well­ness appli­ca­tions of brain sci­ence. He is an internationally-known speaker and expert, and has been quoted by The New York Times, The Wall Street Jour­nal, New Sci­en­tist, CNN, and other media outlets.

Nikhil Sri­ra­man is a patent attor­ney admit­ted to prac­tice before the United States Patent and Trade­mark Office (USPTO). Nikhil has held posi­tions at the USPTO, IP law firms and in-house at For­tune 500 com­pa­nies. He cur­rently serves as Primal’s Vice Pres­i­dent of Intel­lec­tual Prop­erty, as well as Sharp­Brains’ Intel­lec­tual Prop­erty Analyst.

Tags: alvaro fer­nan­dez, brain, creativity, innovation, neurotechnology, nikhil sri­ra­man, psychology

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