Fascinating piece at Technology Review on the thoughts and prospects at the beginning of the brain engineering age, including insights into how the brain might be manipulated into behavior change. Here’s the crescendo:
A key task in the years to come will be to develop a methodology for assessing the level of description appropriate for solving a specific problem. Although much of my lab's work is focused on controlling very specific neural-circuit elements, using pulses of light to turn individual cell types on or off with high precision, it's clear that very powerful tools can exist at much higher levels of abstraction. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy, in which patients learn how to debug negative thoughts that contribute to depressed feelings, is a profound and powerful neurotechnology. And it is entirely based on language. Language-based neurotechnologies activate sets of neurons, distributed across the whole brain, in very precise patterns--and in ways that can cause changes capable of enduring throughout a lifetime. Language can induce precise changes in the brain that move people to happiness, teach them skills, lead them into war, and make them feel empathy or hatred or exhilaration. As John Hockenberry pointed out to me this past spring, language is the original brain interface. Perhaps the complexity of synthetic neurobiology arises from the fact that brain engineering is, in some ways, what we all do, all the time.
And if you don’t think this is speeding up on you as fast and as surprisingly as global warming, read the whole post associated with this:
A targeted, coordinated national effort is needed to support the development of neurotechnology across the board. It is vitally important that public infrastructure be developed to ensure that today’s neurotechnology discoveries quickly become tools to improve the human condition. Government must become a partner with the private sector to encourage the translation of brain research into treatments.
In an effort to improve national coordination and accelerate neurotech innovation, the Neurotechnology Industry Organization is spearheading the National Neurotechnology Initiative. The NNTI calls for establishing a National Neurotechnology Coordinating Office within the Department of Health and Human Services to help agencies plan joint and complementary research strategies and to serve as the unified voice of federal neurotechnology efforts. The new initiative also seeks to create an advisory panel of experts from industry, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations to inform the new office on issues including research and development priorities, technology transfer, commercial applications, and ethical, legal, and social issues. (h/t Brain Waves)