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.