Finally, the Digital Revolution meets the Human Brain

Finally, the Digital Revolution meets the Human Brain

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.

comments powered by Disqus