Bioprogramming, Blockchain, Digital Governance, Energy and Transportation, integrated reality, Inteligent Processes, Neurogamification, Tech and Business

Beyond Digital: 6 Exponential Revolutions – The Book

I have put together my explorations of Exponential Technologies in my new book “Beyond Digital: Six Exponential Revolutions that are changing our world” (en castellano “Más Allá de Digital: Seis Revoluciones Exponenciales que están cambiando el mundo”) which you can find on Amazon both in physical and digital format.

The book is my attempt to give anyone who wants to understand what is happening a window on six new waves of change that are coming our way through an accessible understanding of the technological underpinnings and plenty of real-world examples. The six technological revolutions I cover are:

  1. Intelligent Processes. The application of AI to information processing and the transformation it will represent in software, business, and government processes. How many processes that now require human intervention will be digitalized through AI allowing cheaper, faster and higher quality outcomes. This could be the end of drudge work and lousy customer experience but might bring significant technological unemployment and inequality
  2. Integrated Reality. How IoT, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Robots and 3D printing are blurring the lines between the physical and digital worlds. Allowing us to interact with the physical world with the same ease we do in digital, and to embody ourselves in the digital world with the same subjective experience as in the physical world. This will bend our physical world even more to our will but could create alienation and escapism as in Ready Player One or a techno-controlled police state that makes 1984 seem liberal.
  3. The New Energy and Transportation Matrix. How solar, electric and autonomous technologies will change how we produce energy and transport ourselves. Potentially bringing an age of free and clean energy and swift and secure transportation. We could potentially be able to overcome global warming, ecological impact and the toll on human lives and time that our current transportation system takes. At the same time, this new matrix will tear down the energy and transportation infrastructure jobs on which many of us depend.
  4. Digital Governance. How Blockchain technologies together with cryptography and the cloud are ushering a new age of financial markets, trust, and law. Digitising money, trust, contracts and the law to give them the same digital speed and quality we have grown used to in the digital world. Still in its early stages, it holds the promise to make our world freer and fairer, with the parallel dangers a bug or a virus could have if computer code runs our financial, legal, and even democratic systems.
  5. Bioprogramming. Understanding the code in which life has been written and learning to manipulate it is given us surprising power and flexibility in using and changing life for our own purposes. The ability to edit, program and even build from scratch living organisms, allows us to change living beings like we change computer programs. With amazing potential in terms of healthcare, human augmentation, and biofabrication, but unexpected risks as we play Mother Nature at an accelerated rate.
  6. Neuroprogramming. Our understanding of neurobiology and neuroeconomics is decoding how our brain, the most complex structure we know of in the Universe, operates and thinks. Being able to understand our neural circuits is giving us new paths in creating technology that replicates the best design principles of our brain and interacts with it effectively. It will be used to further accelerate our technology, augment human capabilities and cure the human suffering linked to brain disease, at the same time it has the potential to take digital manipulation even further robbing us of free choice.

The book would not have been possible with the help of my wife, my family, my friends, my colleagues in Deloitte and McKinsey, the readers of my blog and some dear readers of the beta version of the book who painstakingly read and help me improve the English and Spanish versions of the book. I am really grateful to all of them. As Mario Vargas Llosa says: “Escribir no es un pasatiempo, un deporte. Es una servidumbre que hace de sus víctimas unos esclavos” (“Writing is not a hobby or a sport. It is a bondage that makes slaves out of its victims”). That bondage is mostly born by those around as the slave happily bangs on the keyboard.

Neurogamification, Tech and Business

3 ways in which a Neuron is better than a computer

Neurons are one of the most remarkable inventions of evolution. Modern neuroscience is allowing us to understand how neurons and the brain work at increasingly deep levels. This understanding has led an appreciation of how optimized neurons are for information processing. Some of the brain neatest tricks are being copied by technologists (e.g. self-organization) with more to come (e.g. information and energy efficiency)

Anatomy of a Neuron

We know since the early drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal thanks to the neuron staining techniques of Camillo Golgi (shared Nobel Prize 1904) that all neurons share four key elements. The dendrites are the input, they listen to the electric signals of other neurons or to the outside world. The axon is the output, it transmits the electrical signal from the neuron to other neurons or to muscles. The cell body (soma) is the power supply, supplying energy and chemicals for the neuron to function. The synapse is the connection, where an axon transmits the electrical signal to the dendrites of another neuron.

Dendrites are the input terminals, like the keyboard, mouse or internet of a computer. Most are internal, processing the signals from other neurons. A few connect directly to the outside world, allowing us to sense it. Our body has dendrites that are sensitive to a wide variety of stimulus including light (eyes), vibration, sound and movement (ears), physical contact and heat (skin), stretch and force (muscles), chemicals (nose and tongue). Neurons can have thousands of dendrites connected to other neurons and combine those signals with different weights and time delays. The signal processing is done analogically and is very versatile, making scientists think that a lot of our learning could be there.

The axon is the output terminal, it takes the electrical signal the neuron calculates and transmits it to the neurons that are listening to it. An axon is digital, it either has an action potential or it doesn’t. The action potential is a voltage spike from -70mV to 40mV that lasts milliseconds and has a refractory period of ~10ms. The initial segment of the axon is where the input of the dendrites determines whether the action potential happens or not by an extremely ingenious electro-chemical process that was characterized by Huxley and Hodgkin (Nobel Prize 1963). Consequently the axon “speaks” to the dendrites through trains of electrical pulses in the hundreds of Hz in frequency.

The cell body or “soma” is the power supply. Like any other cell, it has the instructions (DNA), the power supply (mitochondria) and the protein factories. It supplies axons and dendrites with the significant amount of energy and chemicals they need to function and keeps the inside of the cell in the right working order to be able to generate and receive the pulses.

The synapses are responsible for communication, they are chemical junctions between neurons that transmit instructions from axon to dendrites whenever the axon fires an axon potential. The instructions are mainly about transmitting the electric signal, but they also include many others that determine if the synapse strengthens or disappears. The synapses are in a way the “software” of the neuron as they determine the strength and type of communication the dendrites of a neuron receive.

Advantages of neurons over electrical circuits

Contrary to what might be thought, neurons are much better at many processing tasks than the computers that we have built. There are three main advantages, all of which technology companies are trying to copy to make computing more powerful

Self-organization and learning.

The first advantage has to do with the plasticity of neurons and the brain. Brain development is extraordinarily complex but it is based on the less than 1 Gigabyte of information humans have in their DNA. The rest is self-organization based on external information and adaptation during development. For comparison purpose, Windows 98 was the last operating system that would have fit in the human genome, with Windows 10 being already 20x the size and any of the current “intelligent” systems like Watson being many orders of magnitude larger.

The self-organization and learning advantage of the brain makes great sense in the context of evolution. Without any explicit design or ample instruction storage capacity whatever emerged had to be very sparsely designed.

Self-organization and learning are starting to be copied which has led to the boom of artificial intelligence around machine learning and deep learning which uses self-organization and learning principles derived from neurons by creating artificial “neural networks”. These techniques are still in the early days with the most complex networks currently in use being probably in the thousands of neurons compared to the brain’s 100 billion neurons.

Information efficiency.

A second related advantage is the much lower amount of information neurons require to learn. Human and animal brains and neurons are able to learn very quickly compared to machine learning models. A human needs just limited experience with words or driving to perform very accurately, while computers need to “drive” millions of miles or go through billions of words, something which a human would be incapable of doing. The root cause of this advantage is still only speculated about, but it could be around the fact that neurons integrate computing, communication, and information storage together without separating between data, transmission, and computation explicitly.

Information efficiency is also deeply necessary for evolution and highly selected for it. The organism that requires can learn to identify a threat or an opportunity quicker will have a definitive advantage over slower learners.

There is frantic research in getting more information-efficient machine learning models, both in terms of software (e.g. new techniques like deep learning) or hardware (e.g. IBMs neuromorphic chips).

Energy efficiency

Finally, brains also have an incredible advantage in terms of energy efficiency. Our brain functions with approximately 20Wh per day, this is 20% of the total energy budget of a human that is around 100Wh. However, it is extremely energy efficient compared to a computer with comparable power. According to Forbes a smartphone clocks 1kWh per year, or ~2Wh per day, a laptop according to some sources is around 200Wh per day (so 10x more than a human). If we take the laptop as a reference a supercomputer with brain-like processing power would be using millions of times more energy than a human brain.

Energy efficiency is another cardinal design principle of nature. Brains are already very expensive energetically at a biological level, so the brain has optimized itself as much as possible while keeping its processing power.

Energy efficiency for computers is a key design principle, especially for mobile phones and the internet of things. Apparently combining analog and digital processing like the brain does, could be a key to increased energy efficiency in our own digital tools

Long-term electrical advantages

However, electrical digital computers have other advantages over neurons that will probably allow them to dominate long term.

First, electrical circuits currently work in 10s of GHz of clock speed. This is 10 million times faster than what neurons can muster with their 5ms action potentials and 10ms refractory periods. 10 million times difference is equivalent to the difference between evolutionary time scales (i.e. how long does DNA take to evolve new species) and the speed at which we live our lives and improve our economy and technology.

Second, digital storage allows for perfect recall of data. Our brains are not optimized for exact data, which is quite useless in real life. So computers have an advantage in terms of storing, retrieving and processing detailed information, while the brain is quite adept at extracting patterns and getting the gist of an issue.

Finally, digital computers are almost infinitely scalable. Our brains are famously limited by the breadth of the birth canal, with our heads being as big as they can biologically get. Computers, on the other hand, are being stacked in greater and greater numbers through cloud technologies with potentially limitless processing power and storage.

Will Moore’s law take electronics beyond what neurons can do? It is a distinct possibility, and it could bring an upheaval in how the world is organized. Neuron-only organisms are already at a clear disadvantage against digitally-enabled ones. If that enablement is made more direct through brain-machine interfaces we could have a race of super cyborgs like Yuval Noah Harari describes in Homo Deus. If alternatively, we manage to manufacture conscience in electronics, it might decide it has no use for the outdated neuron-based monkeys that brought it here.

In any case, the power of electronics and neurons has to be harnessed towards our values and goals. Ethics, human rights, global development, freedom and the pursuit of happiness have to be front and center in what we do with our neurons and electronics.

Neurogamification, Tech and Business

Centaurs: Transistors and Neurons working together

Centaurs represent the alliance of neuron and transistor combining the best of each world. In the Centaur world, some activities will be totally automated while others rely on two flavors of neuron-transistor combination. Humans in the Centaur World will face a different paradigm in which working with transistors becomes the new literacy and disruptions to labor markets, wealth distributions, and human existence need to be managed.

man machine

Since Deep Blue’s victory over Kasparov in 1997, most people believe computers are dominant in chess. However, when a no-holds-barred tournament was held it was human-computer teams that won, not computers on their own. The combination of human thought plus computer analysis of moves was more powerful than any computer alone. At the same time, even human chess has been transformed by computers. During matches human players can’t use digital aids, however, computers play an ever-increasing role in training, match analysis and practice. This has led to earlier and earlier grandmaster level players, with the record being currently at twelve years of age.

The concept of the centaur that combines the best of both worlds is not new. Centaur’s were Greek mythological beings that had the body of a horse and had the torso and heads of a human. They combined the speed and stamina of a horse with the skill and intelligence of a human. Similarly, human civilization is not based only on neurons but relies heavily on the natural DNA based world. We continue to use animals and plants for producing food. Natural reserves continue to be some of the most beautiful sights in the world. In a similar way, it will not make sense to reinvent what neurons can already do reasonably well with transistors, at least for some time.

The Centaur World

Neurons will be substituted by transistors in many undertakings. As seen previouslytransistors are much better in areas in which speed, accuracy, exact memory and brute force processing predominate. We will see transistors continue to quickly take over activity in those domains. It will be mostly a good thing as those characteristics don’t come easily to humans and can be alienating to perform. The farmer toiling in the field or the worker in Henry Ford’s factory might be romanticized a posteriori. However, it was hard, repetitive and backbreaking work that is much more efficiently performed by machines.

Neurons do very well in other areas, for which speed and accuracy are not so relevant. Areas like creativity, emotion, common sense, lateral thinking, empathy, creating meaning and even consciousness are very well handled by the human brain. Exceptional speed or accuracy is less relevant to them. Consequently, we can expect transistors to extend them rather than substitute them.

There is also a premium for humans, as there is a premium for organic food or handcrafted goods. Using humans in delivering a service or product is becoming a mark of quality and exclusivity. And the centaur concept will make sure that the level of quality delivered is higher than if there was only a computer involved. A Michelin-star dining experience is the combination of the cooking and the waiting staff with the technology to make everything run smoothly. Beyond the shock value of an “automated restaurant”, it wouldn’t make sense to eliminate staff completely.

The centaur world will be a three-tiered world in which transistors take over some tasks, and neurons and transistors work side by side in others:

  • Radical digitalization of speed, accuracy, and exactness. Any activity in which speed, accuracy, and exactness are the key outputs will be completely digitized with cursory human supervision. The same way the tractor digitized more than 95% of farm employment, we can expect the digitization of most “utility” tasks in which we just need to get the job done. Whole areas like transportation or administrative work will disappear to datacenters and autonomous vehicles. Parts of highly skilled jobs like analyzing medical images will be digitized to improve speed, accuracy, and exactness. Anything in which “the job just needs to be done” and speed, accuracy and exactness count for most of the value will be lost to humans.
  • Centaur service for a premium experience and superior results. In parallel, a new world of premium centaur service will emerge. A computer might know the diagnosis and treat an illness, but a doctor will do a much better job of connecting emotionally, getting the patient understand and act on the treatment. Most wealth management, tax records and filing might be digitized, but a financial advisor will help the client understand what they want and how to get it. A child could learn from a computer system with all the knowledge and gamification, but it is the teacher who motivates and engages the imagination to create the future scientist. Maybe the computer can reproduce the violin piece exactly, but it is the performer who creates a vibrant and unique experience imbuing it with emotion. Most customer service could be digitized to online channels and chatbots, but sometimes there is no substitute for a helpful human to eliminate confusion and create loyalty.
  • Digitaly aided human creativity. Finally, there will be a domain of human creativity, innovation, and meaning creation. This domain will be fully supported by computers that enable much-increased performance of those uniquely human skills. Artists will create new works of art, with transistors supporting the ideation, design, and execution. Entrepreneurs will conceive of new business ideas, with transistors enabling them to test, build and deploy them at blinding speed and almost no cost. Writers and film-makers will create new masterpieces of fiction and non-fiction, with transistors expediting the research, production and distribution process to their eager audiences. Scientists will conceive of new groundbreaking hypothesis to explain the world, with transistors doing the fact checking, experiments and working out the possible hypothesis to help create an even greater synthesis. Engineers will design the next great technologies, software programs, devices, and structures, with transistors simulating the underlying structures and doing most of the grunt work.

Humans in a Centaur World

So neurons will not disappear substituted by transistors, but they will live in a very different world. First, interacting with transistors will be central skill both as consumers and professionals. Second, there will be a tectonic shift in the tasks and skills that are demanded, with many of today’s job categories being quickly digitized. Third, the rules of the market that determine careers, incomes and competition will need to be rethought and adapted to the new Centaur World. Fourth, a wave of digital addiction is sweeping the world and needs to be managed And finally, the dangers of the transistor transition will need to be considered and managed.

Digital Literacy. The only life away from interacting with transistors will be that of the hermit or the religious fundamentalist. All jobs will have substantial digital support to improve productivity and interacting effectively with technology will be a key differentiator. The “digital divide” that already exists between those that get computers and those that don’t will expand and become a chasm in income, quality of life and opportunity. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to be a programmer, data scientist or hardware designer, but everyone needs to understand what technology can do for them and how to harness it. That digital literacy will become a basic human right and should be a central part of school curriculums, much like math and reading is today. Societies should also work to eliminate digital illiteracy, much like the campaigns to eliminate classical illiteracy during the 20th century. It could be argued that technology should go even before math and reading because technology will be able to do math and reading for people.

The new job tectonic shift. The 20th century saw jobs shift from farms to factories and then to services. The 21st will see it shift from factories and services to premium Centaur experiences and creative undertakings such as entrepreneurship, science, art, entertainment, and engineering. People need to be helped in this transition, much as World War II, the GI Bill, and the Marshall plan helped the farm to factory and services transition. If not we will face the angry and destitute farmers of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The skill shift required is 180º degrees, from routine jobs that value consistency and accuracy in a structured environment, to creative jobs that require improvisation and agility in an ever-changing environment. Some will not be able to adapt. Others will need substantial help to do so. The only way out will be to support workers on the shift, knowing that a substantial group will need to be taken care of until their retirement.

The New Digital Deal. Changes in the basis of work and society always create substantial changes in wealth distributions. Those who have the skills required or own the new relevant assets accumulate wealth rapidly, while those with the old skills and assets are suddenly left destitute and without hope. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to embark on measures that were termed communist when they were implemented but allowed redistribution and prosperity for decades after. There will need to be a New Digital Deal with elements like universal income, progressive taxation, and antitrust action which tackles the current transition. The added challenge is that this New Digital Deal will have to be global in concept to deal with the potential migratory flows and tensions it would create otherwise

Manage the digital addiction crisis. The world is facing a wave of addiction comparable to the opioid and tobacco crisis of the second half of the twentieth century. Human brains are susceptible to many manipulations that can hijack their rewards systems and create irresistible compulsions. The more areas like the nucleus accumbens are understood, the more it is seen how substances or experiences can interact directly with the reward machinery of the brain making it physiologically extremely challenging to resist. Alcohol and opium have been with humans since ancient times. Chemically-based drugs created a wave of addiction and public health problems during the twentieth century. Digital compulsion is the key problem for the 21st. Understanding of the brain has been used to design absolutely irresistible experiences that are tested scientifically to create ever more addictive serotonin highs. Thus we have millions compulsively addicted to digital experiences, from social media to gaming. This is specially worrisome with children who find it difficult to resist with only partially prepared frontal lobes. Digital addiction will have to be regulated, as we seen the pressure of competition drives players to implement maximum addiction in all cases.

Dangers of Digital. Uncontrolled AI could have dire consequences for the human race. Maybe it will not be the fantastic scenarios of The Matrix or Terminators but relevant figures in science and business see the dangers. The current “AI Cold War” between the US, China and Russia could have unintended consequences and lead to preemptive action if the topic is not addressed.

Neurogamification, Tech and Business

Game of Life

You look at your smartphone. You are really hooked to this app and for once it seems something useful! You are already gold in wellness, after having lost 10kg, improved your nutrition, started to sleep 7h regularly, and having incorporated sport into your daily routine. Now the app has suggested you either work on your education which is still bronze or embark on a major quest, quitting smoking. You know both will be challenging, but with your app you will do it.

Science has made it relatively easy to know what to do to improve your health, happiness, knowledge, wealth, and social life. The amount of self-help books is enormous, with more coming out every day. Their exhortations are quite consistent and even backed by science, at least for the good ones. They rarely enjoin us to do something counterintuitive. Rather they just rattle through the list of things we know we should be doing with some new buzzword or framework.

From getting rids of addictions like smoking, drinking, credit card binging, or darker drugs, to reducing our waistline and improving our nutrition. Exercising more in terms of endurance, strength, and flexibility. Sleeping enough. Spending more time with our loved ones. Reading for one hour a day in our field of expertise. Keeping a to-do list. Journalling. The needs are clear, and they work, but they are overwhelming and increasingly difficult in our distracted and overscheduled lives.

Some manage to move forward through habit engineering and willpower, and the results show. But for most, it is too much even to get to the most basic behavior changes. Smoking is awful for your health, it stinks, and it’s increasingly expensive, but many fail to quit even after its rebellious and social utility fade with age. An overly expanded waistline looks bad, saps your energy, and can lead you to an early death. But still, you are not able to resist that midnight snack.

What if we could create an app as sticky as Facebook and as addictive as World of Warcraft that would structure and support our behavior change? The social and economic potential of such an invention is amazing. The reduction in healthcare costs would be immense; the improvement in happiness and peace shocking, the financial consequences might trigger a long-lasting boom.

For a long time, the self-help book was the best vehicle to transmit behavior change. While support groups like Weight Watchers or AA helped for the really large problems. However, now with neurogamification we might have the technology and know-how to support people in radically improving their lives.

We have customer experience and gamification expertise that could let us create the structure. We have the scientific knowledge to codify and quantify the behaviors. We even have integrated reality to integrate the power of the app into the physical world, allowing it to peek at our physical actions, so it doesn’t have to rely on our inconsistent reporting.

And even as we speak some are attempting parts of it. However, real behavior change will probably need a holistic approach to tackle each problem in the right order. Lack of sleep will trigger overeating, an overweight person will find it more challenging to concentrate, lack of concentration will reduce professional and educational outcomes.

It wouldn’t take a very big team to tackle this task. Creating this initial “Game of Life” would just need some user experience experts from Facebook, some gamification gurus from mobile games or Blizzard, and then the self-help specialists that can select the right behaviors to target and the order to do it in. Over time, with enough data, even that won’t be necessary as results will point to the most effective paths and the most transformational interventions.

Any effort of this sort will face challenges undoubtedly. The tobacco companies, the consumer lending companies, the sugary drinks companies… many will resist and try to stifle the creation of a more in control consumer at the center of the system. However, time is on the side of in control, happy consumers. The main challenge will be the difficulty to get people to engage in change and pay for it. Hopefully, the advances we have seen in this chapter in Neurogamification will be enough to overcome this.

Of course, this will be not for everyone. Some people prefer to be fat, or find smoking immensely pleasurable, far outweighing health consequences. This needs to be respected. However, the majority of overweight people would prefer to slim down and most smokers would prefer to quit. They just find it too hard to do it with the unaided and often depleted reserves of willpower in our brain. After all, our brain was developed to survive in the savannah, not to be on a diet for several months straight or avoid cravings while being bombarded by Facebook updates.

If we manage to make this dream reality society could change drastically for the better. We are all slaves to our lack of willpower, and sadly many businesses take advantage of that as part of their business model. We will have a second abolishment of slavery when we abolish our slavery to our lack of willpower. Would that make us less human? Some would argue it would, I would argue it is no different to speeding at hundreds of km per hour over the surface of the Earth when our legs can only carry us much slower.

So what are you user experience guru, gamification geek or self-help genius waiting for? Band together and create the Game of Life for all of us. You can start by going to Hasbro to get the trademark.

Bioprogramming, Digital Governance, Neurogamification, Tech and Business

3 More stories about the 6 exponential revolutions

More stories about how I got to understand and get deep in the 6 exponential revolutions.

Digital Governance.

My journey down the Digital Governance rabbit hole started with a random conversation with an innovation executive at a large multinational bank in mid-2015. He told me he was working on Blockchain, I had barely heard about it so I asked if it had something to do with Bitcoin. He answered with the phrase that would become stock later, “It is not about Bitcoin, it is about Blockchain”. In those days Bitcoin was in the mid-hundreds, about 10x below this writing.

That conversation got me exploring in 2016 and I started to find out that some of the smartest and most innovative people I knew were involved in this world. Some of them staking their careers on this new and unknown technology. The “Blockchain rather than Bitcoin” bunch was more focused on Ethereum and enterprise applications. There had to be something to it. I got familiar with the technology and started to read on it. I even started speaking about it, realizing the great degree of ignorance there was out there about the technology.

My real involvement with blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and the impact of Digital Governance was in 2017. There I made my first cryptocurrency investments and discovered that several groups of my acquaintances were already deep into it. People in the online sports betting world had been using bitcoin as a payments utility for some years already. Now they were considering it and other cryptos as an alternative investment. The San Francisco tech scene was also quite into cryptocurrencies, with a different set of favorite coins.

From there, it went quickly. Clients started wanting to get deep in Blockchain. I started to follow the ICO scene, see it climb over two billion in 2017, and met random people in Madrid who were participating in ICOs in New Zealand and getting to know the founders through the Slack channels. Even one of my portfolio companies decided to do an initial coin offering. The animal spirits of the internet boom were present with a vengeance in the ICOs and cryptocurrency investments, heralding a crash at some point. At the same time, the technology was incredibly powerful and flexible, a real general purpose technology. A new paradigm that could be game-changing in many use cases.

Bioprogramming.

Bioprogramming became real for me in two separate events. The first one was during 2016. I had always been interested in the Maker movement, and there had always been a “bio-maker” side to it. So I wasn’t surprised when I learned reading Singularity University materials that several software IDEs were available to design the DNA. I installed GenomeCompiler to try it out and was promptly shocked. Of course GenomeCompiler is just one of the options, a long list including uGene, GeneStudio, and Gene Beans is out there.

It fulfilled the promise of allowing you to design the DNA of an organism, but it went far beyond it. First, it allowed you to use existing organisms as a base for the design. This included bacteria (Lactobacillus, Escherichia Coli, Clostridium Botulinum), viruses (HIV1, Enterobacteria phage) and Eukaryotes (Saccharomyces). This meant you could try out subtle or not so subtle changes to an existing organism and see what happened. The potential for a bio-engineering golden age was obvious, as was the dangers of its potential nefarious uses.

What really made this real for me was the fact that you could actually order your redesigned samples over the internet. There are a variety of companies (Twist Bioscience, Gene Universal, GenScript, and many more) that are happy to fabricate it for you for a fee (some sites start as low as 25€). While it is not as fast as a software engineer deploying her code to the cloud, it is way faster than evolution by mutation and reproduction. I never got to order a sample to see if it really works. My wife is a doctor and she told me that in her mind it was too dangerous and potentially illegal.

That first experience made it clear to me that there was an amateur biohacking scene and that it was technically feasible. In early 2017 I learned there was a real industrial one also. We were looking for ways to reduce the environmental footprint for a fashion retailer. Surprisingly to many, Fashion is one of the most environmentally impactful industries. Its footprint is very large especially because of its materials like cotton, leather, or silk.

We explored some alternative suppliers and discovered there was a complete world of companies working on creating new materials through biofabrication. Bioengineered leather had several alternatives, it didn’t need cows and could have its leather precisely tuned to the characteristics a company needed. Everything was accomplished through cell cultures. Modern Meadow is an example of a company working on this and also on artificial meat. Another favorite is silk. The material that allegedly bankrupted the Roman Empire, silk is extremely intensive in resources, with 1kg requiring over 5000 silkworms. AMSilk is producing silk through bioengineering for textiles, medical devices, and the cosmetics industry.

Neurogamification

I have always been shocked by the low levels of work and school engagement in the world. I have been lucky enough that for me work and learning have been for the most part exciting and fun. However, I could see how many around me, and most in the world, according to statistics, were totally disengaged. For me, this is a disaster and a huge lost opportunity. It is a real pity that most of the population passes most of their waking hours in activities they find boring and unappealing.

Games have always been the opposite. Whether card games, physical games, or computer games, I have always seen people enthralled by games. Many of these games involve strenuous physical exertion, deep mental concentration, or complex social interactions with empathy and listening playing a large role. Why couldn’t the same principles that make games fascinating be applied to work and study so that everyone could be totally fascinated with his or her day to day?

Digital and the other Exponential Revolutions will enable this to a large extent, by eliminating thankless repetitive work. However, what really convinced me was seeing what the computer games by Blizzard, probably the most successful games studio of the last two decades, did to people.

I saw my friends, some more workaholic others more laid back, dedicate hours on end to these games. Their activities included intense study of how to perform certain tasks and deliberate practice to improve (leveling and tournament training), complex social negotiations and practice to get large groups (20-40 person guilds) to execute complex tasks (raids and instances), execution of repetitive tasks to gather resources (farming or grinding), and many others. Getting them to do this required very much ingenuity from Blizzard, and a level of understanding of how the brain works far beyond common sense. If this could be made for a game that actually cost money to play, I became conviced that it is doable for an activity you get paid for.

Neurogamification, Tech and Business

Exponential Revolution #6 – Neurogamification

Neurogamification allows us to fully program motivation and affective responses in human brains by using our knowledge of how the brain and the mind work. It goes much beyond primitive techniques to generate addiction or the emotional responses that are currently employed by different communication media and in Advertising.

Neurogamification touches us at our cores. It touches our minds, our concept of self, the idea of self-determination and our concept of the soul. When neurogamification has come to full fruition we will have a disturbing window on how we make decisions and how our brain works. It is still to be seen whether our concept of what being human means and how we derive meaning from life can withstand that knowledge unscathed. There are also significant risks associated with this knowledge and manipulation capability. Should organizations be able to manipulate people with their consent? How would we manage the ability to predict behavior? What would happen if a totalitarian institution captures a population through full manipulation? Would willing 99% majorities count as a democracy if they are based on neurogamification manipulation?

Neurogamification is based on a series of converging disciplines. On one side, psychology, gaming and behavioral economics that have been deepening our understanding of why and how we make decisions with increasingly elaborated experiments. On the other side, we have a growing body of knowledge around the brain, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and others, which gives us great anatomical knowledge of how its configured and increasing knowledge about how it works dynamically. All of this is underpinned by Digital and Integrated Reality which gives us the capability to increasingly control the environment in which our mind operates improving our capability to understand it and affect it. Customer experience, game design, and neuromarketing are three examples of specific disciplines that try to take what we are capable of and apply it to specific domains.

This paradigm shift covers a number of distinct but connected areas. First, our capability to understand what is going on in the mind of a consumer, employee, investor or citizen by seeing how she behaves in the world and what is the pattern of neural activation. Second, the creation of engaging experiences that uses the brain’s functioning to make us intrinsically motivated to perform in a certain way. Third, the therapeutic uses of this knowledge to break negative brain circuits that trigger habits like overeating, or even clinical conditions like depression.

Understanding what is going on in the brain could be called “Google Analytics for the mind”. This is the dream of any marketer or salesperson come true. Instead of guessing and what works, you could actually see were in the neural patterns of engagement your pitch is breaking down. Ubiquitous cameras and powerful image analysis software from Integrated Reality allows an understanding of detailed physical behavior. Combined with a neural scanning of brain activation it would allow getting a complete picture of the behavior of each customer for each offering. With Intelligent Process we could extract knowledge and act upon this data. Is it a word that triggers a negative association? Do we just tune out at the beginning?

Engaging experiences are now given a variety of names, customer engagement, customer experience, gamification… In the end it is all about using our knowledge about how the brain works to create extremely engaging experiences. Of course, this  can be addictive, and it takes us into an ethically questionable territory. What is clear is that gamification elements using psychological knowledge can be used to boost engagement and make customers, users and employees want to behave how we want them to behave or even how they want to behave themselves.

Finally, therapeutic uses are increasingly available. Our knowledge is taking us deeper into the understanding of depression and addictions. What we are seeing is that psychological afflictions often have an underlying cause in brain chemistry unbalances. So we can use the power of integrated reality and digital to confront and treat these conditions. Again, it is easy to fall into questionable territory as one person’s therapy is another’s manipulation.

Neurogamification will be tremendously impactful across industries and change every one of the areas of economic and human activity. While it might not transform any particular value chain, it will probably change the way we think and go about many fundamental human activities. While it has its dark side, it is also full of possibility. The opportunity of a world of full engagement in which we are as excited to go to work, learn or do our taxes, as an addicted Candy Crash player could boost human potential and human happiness beyond what we can imagine.

Even though neurogamification is probably the most incipient of the six paradigm shifts described it is already being deployed widely both in ways we can already consider facts, as well as others that are still speculations.

Facts

  • Addictive cues in games. Just one more level.
  • User engagement.  The new world of zero friction.
  • Shopper Analysis and neuromarketingOptimizing the brain funnel.
  • Gamification.  Playing to buy.
  • Serious games.  Playing to work and learn.
  • Gamified /VR therapy and training. Playing to heal.

Speculations

  • Brain structure and function. The most complex structure in the universe.
  • Mind structure and function. The ghost in the machine.
  • Engagement in corporations. From Human Resources to Employee Game Design.

Potential Future: Game of life. Creating meaningful and engaging life, work and learning.