Digital Governance, Inteligent Processes, Tech and Business

Digital: From Neurons to Transistors

Digital captures the transition we are embarked on from neurons to transistors as the dominant substrate of information processing.

Neurons are exquisite creations of natural evolution. They have achieved through self-organization and evolution many of the properties we have managed to engineer in electrical systems such as logical operations, signal regeneration for information transmission or 1/0 information processing. When combined together in the circuits that constitute the human brain they allow amazing complexity and functionality. The roughly 100 billion neurons in a human brain form well over 100 trillion connections leading to consciousness, creativity, moral judgment and much more.

They have also led to transistors, an information processing system that has managed to replicate many of the properties of neurons while being approximately 10 million times faster. A neuron typically fires in the millisecond range (1000 Hz of frequency), while transistors operate comfortably in the nano to picoseconds (1-100 GHz range).

10 million times speed advantage makes transistor dominate neurons as an information processing medium, even if they are still capable of less complexity and require more energy than a brain. That is why we have seen the progressive substitution of neurons for transistors in many information processing tasks. This is fundamentally different from technologies like writing that extend neurons. It is only comparable to the use of the steam engine, electricity and internal combustion to substitute muscles.

This absurdly great speed advantage allows the Digital Paradox. When neurons are substituted by transistors in a process you get lower cost, higher quality and higher speedwithout trade-offs. Thus there is no going back, once we have engineered sufficient complexity in transistors to tackle a process there is no reason to use neurons anymore. Of course, neurons and transistors are often combined. Neurons still dominate for some tasks and they benefit greatly by being supported by transistors.

What we now call generically “Digital” is one more stage in this gradual substitution of neurons by transistors. In that sense, those who claim that Digital is not new are right. At the same time, the processes that are now being substituted have a wider impact, so the use of a new term is understandable. Finally, we can expect the substitution to continue after the term digital has faded from use. In that sense, there is a lot that will happen Beyond Digital.

Early stages of substitution

Transistors and their earlier cousins vacuum tubes started by substituting neurons in areas in which their advantage was greatest: complex brute force calculations and extensive data collection and archiving. This was epitomized by calculating missile trajectories and code-breaking during World War II and tabulating census data since the early 20th century.

Over time, this extended to databases to store large amounts of information for almost any purpose and programming repetitive management of information. This enabled important advances but still had limited impact in most people’s lives. Only very specialized functions like detailed memory, long relegated to writing, and rote calculation, the domain of only a minuscule fraction of the workforce, were affected.

The next step was to use these technologies to manage economic flows, inventory, and accounting within organizations. So-called Enterprise-Resource-Planning or ERP systems allowed to substitute complex neuron+writing processing systems which were at the limit of their capacity. This substituted some human jobs, but mainly made possible a level of complexity and performance that was not attainable before.

Substitution only started to penetrate the popular conscience with Personal Computers (PCs). PCs first allowed individuals to start leveraging the power of transistors for tasks such as creating documents, doing their accounting or entertainment.

Finally, the internet allowed to move most information transmission from neurons to transistors. We went from person to person telephone calls and printing encyclopedias, to email, web pages, and Wikipedia.

In this first stage, transistors were substituting mostly written records and some specialized jobs such as persons performing calculations, record keeping or information transmission. They were also enabling new activities like complex ERPs, computer games or electronic chats that were not possible before. In that sense, the transition was mostly additive for humans.

Digital: Mainstream substitution

The use of Digital coincides with when many mainstream neuron-based processes have started to be affected by transistors. This greater disruption of the supremacy of neurons is being felt beyond specialized roles and starts to become widespread. It also starts to be more substitutive, with transistor-based information processing being able to completely replace neurons in areas in which we thought neurons were reasonably well adapted to perform.

First went media and advertising. We used to have an industry that created, edited, curated and distributed news and delivered advertising on top of that. Most of these functions in the value chain have been taken over by transistors either in part or in full.

Then eCommerce and eServices moved to transistors the age-old process of selling and distributing products to humans. The buying has still stayed in human hands for now, but you are close to being able to buy a book from Amazon without any human touching it from the printing to the delivery. On the eServices side, no one goes to the bank teller anymore if it can be done instantly on the Internet.

Then the Cloud took the management of computers to transistors themselves. Instead of depending on neurons for deployment, scaling, and management of server capacity, services like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure give transistors the capacity to manage themselves for the most part.

Our social lives and gossip might have seemed totally suited for neurons. However, services like Facebook, Whatsapp or LinkedIn have allowed transistors to manage a large part of them at much higher speeds.

Smartphones made transistors much more mobile and accessible, making them readily available in any context and any moment. Smartphones have started substituting tasks our brains used to be able to perform with neurons, like remembering phone numbers, navigating through a city o knowing where we have to go next.

Finally, platforms and marketplaces like Airbnb and Uber turned to transistors for tasks that were totally in the hands of neurons like getting hold of a cab or renting an apartment.

This encroachment of transistors on the daily tasks of neurons has woken all of us up to change. Now it is not just obscure professions or processes but a big chunk of our daily life that is being handed over to transistors. It creates mixed feelings for us. On the one hand, we love the Digital Paradox and its improvement of speed, quality, and cost. It would be difficult to convince us to forsake Amazon or to return to the bank branch. On the other side, transistors substituting neurons have left many humans without jobs and are causing social disruption. Transistors are also speeding up the world towards their native speed, which is inaccessible to humans. There are almost no more human stock traders because they cannot compete with the 10 million faster speeds of transistors.

Beyond Digital: Transistors take over

The final stages of the transition can be mapped to how core functions of the human brain might become substitutable by transistors. The process is already well underway with some question marks around the reach of transistors. In any case, we can expect it to continue accelerating speed taking us to the limits of what can be endurable for our sluggish neuron-based brains.

Substituting the sensory cortex. Machine vision, Enhanced Reality, Text-to-Speech, Natural Language Processing and Chatbots are just some of the technologies that are putting in question the neuron’s dominance in sight, sound, and language. Approximately ~15-25% of the brain is devoted to processing sensory signals and language at various levels. Transistors are getting very good at it, and have recently become able to recognize many items in images and process and create language effectively.

Substituting the motor cortex. The same with unscripted and adaptive movement. Robots are increasingly powerful and they are able to cook pizzas, walk through a forest and help you in a retail store. Autonomous driving promises for transistors to be able to navigate a vehicle, one of the most demanding motor-sensory tasks we humans undertake.

Substituting non-routine cognitive and information processing. We have seen basic calculation and data processing be taken over by transistors, now we are starting to see “frontal lobe” tasks go over to transistors. Chess, Go and Jeopardy are games in which AIs have already bested human champions. Other more professional fields like medicine, education or law are already seeing transistors start to encroach on neurons with Artificial Intelligence in which transistors mimic “neural networks”.

Encoding morality, justice, and cooperation. Another set capabilities which represent some of the highest complexity of the human brain and the frontal lobe are moral judgments and our capacity for cooperation. Blockchain promises to be able to encode morality, justice, and cooperation digitally and make it work automatically through “smart contracts”.

Connecting brains with transistors. Finally, we are seeing neurons get increasingly connected to transistors. There are now examples of humans interfacing with transistors directly with the brain. This could bring a time of integration in which neurons take care of non-time sensitive tasks while in continuous interaction with transistors that move at much higher speeds.

Will all this substitution leave anything to neurons? There are capabilities like empathy, creating goalscreativitycompassion or teaching humans that might be beyond the reach of transistors. On the other hand, it might be reasonable to believe that any task that can be done with a human brain can be done much quicker with an equivalently complex processor. There are no right answers but it seems that roles like entrepreneur, teacher, caregiver or artist might still have more time dominated by neurons than many other callings. Also, there might be some roles that we always want other humans to take with us, even if the transistors could take care of it much more quickly and more efficiently.

Blockchain, Digital Governance, Tech and Business

Bitcoin: Bubble or S-Curve?

You can find more about cryptocurrencies and other Exponential Revolutions that will shape the future in my book: Beyond Digital (here in Spanish).

I have been writing about Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies for over a year now. The jump in prices in 2017 has been staggering, an order of magnitude. Now, with crypto between half and three-quarters of a trillion USD, the question in everyone’s mind is the same. Is it a bubble? What should I do about it?

I don’t have the answer and no one has. We are looking at an unprecedented phenomenon. It will be easy to explain in hindsight but right now we are completely at a loss to predict the future. There are two compelling and competing explanations out there about what is happening. They are making testable predictions that lead to diametrically opposed advice. The two theories are the bubble and the adoption curve.

Nasdaq Bubble and burst. Source: FedPrimeRate

The Bubble: Internet Boom all over again

The Bubble is the most widely spread explanation. It says this has happened before, many times. A new asset class is created, it starts to rise fueled by speculation and at some point, everyone buys into the game. Fear of missing out takes the best of caution and more and more people start to invest. The scarcity of the asset class drives high apparent valuations that are not real, but rather just predicated on the transaction prices of the few people that are selling vs. the crowd trying to get in. First, it is just the techies, then the financiers jump in, then the broader public and then there is no one left to jump in and prices collapse. Afterwards, the technology takes its time to develop and a small part of the asset class becomes very valuable over time.

The first bubble of this kind was the famous Tulipmania in 16th century Holland, then there was the South Sea Bubble, the 1929 stock market peak, the go-go years in the 1960s, the internet boom in the late 1990s and several real estate bubbles, the latest finishing with the 2008 crash. It is pure human mass psychology and begets stock phrases like “prices can never fall”, “this time is different” or a “we have reached a permanently high plateau of valuation”.

The facts are also consistent with the explanation, but with a much more radical speed and depth to it compared to other bubbles. The NASDAQ 1990s bubble took around a decade to form with an x11 price increase in the period from the ~500 trough in October 1990 to its ~5000 peak in February 2000. The crypto craze has done much more just during 2017, going from a ~20 billion valuation at the beginning of 2017 to a ~600 billion valuation at the end of the year. Approximately an x30 during 2017.

As more and more people have gotten into crypto prices have skyrocketed, leading to more people to get into crypto. Most people are buying and holding crypto, so there is scarcity to enter the asset class, a very small door to enter Bitcoin that bids prices ever upward. In the western world, we are living the start of the “financiers” and “everyone else” phase, with still plenty of people left to enter the cryptocurrency craze. However, in Korea, China or Japan we have been in the “everyone else” phase for a while, with governments deeply concerned about the speculation’s impact on their elderly or young.

If the bubble theory is correct there are three questions worth answering: When? How much? and How long? When will the crash come? Is what all speculators are thinking about, impossible to answer as it depends on crowd psychology. The Rockefeller anecdote about selling all his stocks when a shoeshine boy gave him a stock tip thus avoiding the 1929 crash seems a good warning sign. In some countries, taxi drivers are already recommending bitcoin investment, which could be a modern-day equivalent. How much will it collapse? Is another great question. The NASDAQ bubble collapsed to ~1200-1500 (-80%) twice, once in September 2002 and another one in February 2009. Of course, cryptocurrencies have no bottom at all, as there is almost no intrinsic value behind them, while the NASDAQ had real companies with real earnings. How long could it take to recover? The NASDAQ only confidently recouped its peak and went beyond last year, 17 years after the 2000 peak. This puts into perspective how much risk there really is. This is how long the internet’s real value took to catch up with its hype, even if there has obviously been a lot of real value. Blockchain will be a game-changing technology, but real applications are still few and far between.

4 famous S-curves. Source: Quora

The S-Curve: A New World of Value

Of course, there is an alternative explanation to the Bubble, the Adoption Curve (or S curve given its shape). The adoption curve is very widespread among starry-eyed crypto enthusiasts. It has also precedent. Eternal September is September 1993, when internet usage started growing significantly thanks to AOL (that is the bottom of the S) and it has only grown exponentially since. Of course, once the whole of the world uses the internet growth flattens (the top of the S) and it stops at that permanently high plateau.

Adoption curves or S-curves are prevalent in the adoption of technology, and for the most part have been tried and true ways of predicting technology adoption. Initial adoption is slow (bottom of the S) with innovators and enthusiasts, once the majority comes in it grows fast (slope of the S), finally the last laggards take a long time to adopt as they are anti-technology (top of the S). TVs, Trains, Electricity, Cars, and many other technologies can be explained with the S curve.

The rationale behind the S curve for cryptocurrencies is assuming that Crypto is a new asset class that is being adopted, not a stock or bond that is being subjected to an irrational euphoria. It took a long time to get started (~9 years until ~20 billion market cap) but now it is in the explosion phase and it will continue to grow until it flattens out once it reaches saturation. Where does it flatten will depend on what percentage does crypto attain as an asset class. Total wealth in the world is ~250-300 trillion USD depending on the estimates. So we are now at approximately 0.2% penetration, if it gets to 1% we still have an x5 run and if it gets to 10% we still have an x50 run, to close to $1 million Bitcoin.

The Adoption Curve has a number of important questions to be considered: How? What? and Which? How much penetration? Will it be 0.1%, 1% or 10% of the wealth? Depending on what you believe there is a big difference in potential. Real Estate is ~60% of the total wealth while Hedge Funds are 1%. What path will it take to the final penetration? S curves are about usage, not value. So a crash or correction could be consistent with it as long as usage and ownership continue to grow. Which cryptocurrencies will be used in the long term? Are Bitcoin and Ethereum Webvan and Pets.com or Amazon and Google? Crypto might be 10% of the wealth and you might still lose everything if you choose the wrong cryptocurrencies. Choosing between Friendster and Facebook is easy in hindsight, but very hard in advance.

So what should I do?

Don’t invest more than you are willing to lose, diversify and hedge your bets are always good paths to follow if you feel you don’t have an edge over others. It hurts when you hedge and miss the bull run, but it hurts more when you plunge in and lose what you cannot afford to lose. 2% of your assets or one month’s salary will be substantial but not take you to bankruptcy in most situations. Go beyond that at your peril.

The bar for beating the cryptomarkets is really high. People who are really investing in cryptocurrencies are dedicating a significant amount of their time to them, doing things like participating in Slack groups, trying out every new token out there and talking to founders. If you are not doing that you don’t have an edge and will be probably better off with a diversified portfolio and limited exposure.

Bioprogramming, Tech and Business

Future Scenario: 120-year-old youths

Death is the great equalizer, and one of the two aspects of God in most religious systems. Some, like Singularity University expert Jose Luis Cordeiro, are claiming that the “death of death” is near. We don’t need to go so far. What if we could reach 120 years old with reasonable health and well-being? Wouldn’t that be great?

Life expectancy from antiquity to the current today hasn’t really changed but has changed very much at the same time. It hasn’t really changed in the sense that a genetically and environmentally lucky human specimen could reach 90 years in Ancient Greece, today that same specimen might reach 100+, not much of a change. At the same time, the average lifespan has multiplied. In the past most humans were unlucky and they died as infants, children or adults, mainly through infectious disease. The 20th century decisively won the battle against infectious disease and now life expectancies routinely match that of the lucky Athenian.

However, we seem to have hit a stumbling block in terms of maximum life expectancy and, even more importantly, quality of old age. Our main killers nowadays are dependent on lifestyle and decay, and they are mostly chronic. Our health system and technology are much less capable of dealing with them. Cancer, the other main killer, is a product of decay but looks more like an infectious disease in terms of its severity and outcomes. We are getting better with cancer but it is still much beyond our control.

Being able to achieve the dream of being 120-year-olds with significant life quality requires that we are able to overcome both. It probably also requires that we somehow reverse cellular decay processes that seem to take place throughout the body and take to the grave even the luckiest of us. There are only between 150 and 600 supercentenarians alive that have lived beyond 110, and the oldest women alive just got to 122 years old. 120-year-old youths would be really a transformation as a species.

If we start with our chronic diseases, taking care of those could be embarrassingly easy. Books like Ray Kurzweil’s Transcend cover the 9 steps required to overcome most of the current killers. They are fairly low tech: talking to your doctor regularly, relaxation, regular health assessments, nutrition, calory reduction, exercise, some new technologies, and detoxification. Mostly common sense backed by truckloads of scientific evidence. Still, most of us don’t exercise, live stressed-out lives, don’t do health-assessments, eat too much and too bad, and don’t play to our genetic weaknesses. This first step might be more about Neurogamification than Bioprogramming.

The results from a regimen like the one prescribed by the one above would result in a step improvement from current health challenges. The top 10 causes of disease in high-income countries today according to the WHO are: Ischaemic heart disease, Stroke, Alzheimer’s and other dementias, Trachea, bronchus and lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lower respiratory infections, colon and rectal cancer, diabetes mellitus, kidney disease and breast cancer. From the list, more than half have a majority of attribution to lifestyle choices (lack of exercise, obesity, smoking, drinking, pollution) and breast cancer has an important genetic component. Only colon and rectal cancer can be considered a true “non-lifestyle non-genetic” killer.

If next, we look at cancer, it is tougher but we are making progress. First, we have traditional treatments like chemo and radiotherapy which have progressively improved survival rates. Second, genomics-based treatments covered earlier have much potential in terms of reducing overall impact from rarer cancers. Third, new treatments are coming out all the time, like a soon to be approved by the FDA cancer treatment that uses the body own immune system. Finally, either very precise artificial life or nanobots will be designed at some point that can detect and eliminate cancer right away. We might be still decades away, but after all most of us are decades away from being 120.

The final frontier is cell degeneration. Cells are programmed to die and they degenerate. Our genes don’t care much about us once we have outlived our reproductive capability, so we decay and die. This is not true with all organisms. Single cell organisms like bacteria continue endlessly, it could even be argued that the original bacteria might live on, even if in a highly mutated state, after close to three billion years. Replicating this in the human cell requires a lot of basic science work. Silicon Valley billionaires are helping here as they are donating significant amounts to research and creating a new industry dubbed the “Immortality Industry”.

Considering all of this getting to 120-year-olds in a quite healthy status might require some work, but for those who value their time on Earth highly, it might be feasible. The impact of 120 healthy year-olds would require us to change many of our ways of organizing society. If 65 starts to be when you get your midlife crisis it might be a little earlier for retirement. Healthcare costs might rise to 20, 30 or 40% of total GDP. After all, there is little more precious than life. Finally, inheritance might take a fully new concept when you can expect to reasonably be a great-great-grandfather.

If you want to try to get there you just need to start changing your habits in very common sense ways. Think that cigarette, that rerun of Game of Thrones that kept you out of the gym, or those extra pounds might cost you decades of healthy living.

Bioprogramming, Tech and Business

Exponential Revolution #5 – Bioprogramming

Bioprogramming is the capacity to understand, modify, and create from scratch the functioning of living organisms manipulating their underlying genetic code as if it was digital code. It will allow reprogramming of existing organisms or the creation ex-novo of new ones. This reprogramming and creation will be potentially as easy and fast as with digital code. The reprogrammed life forms will to heal, fabricate, and much more.

Now we enter a completely different terrain and one that impinges one step further into what we consider our core. Bioprogramming doesn’t only have great economic impact, it also touches the substrate of our own bodies. It promises to change our relationship with them, giving us knowledge that seemed an unattainable mystery and perhaps impacting some of the deepest human mysteries like health, disease, reproduction, or death itself.

Like the New Energy Matrix, Bioprogramming combines digital technologies with very physical and “wet” technologies. It is based strongly on the breakthroughs in genetic engineering and biology that have allowed us to improve our understanding of how living organisms are coded and work. It has also required substantial advances in chemistry and physics to create the physical capability of manipulating micro scale genetic material at a very low cost. The latest in a long list of advances is the CRISPR/CAS9 technology, which allows permanent modification of the genetic information of organisms. Of course, it has also required the advance of digital technology to allow to do all this in an automated and cost-effective way.

Bioprogramming allows reading, writing and modifying genetic instructions in living cells. This can be used in mainly three ways: read the genetic instructions of existing organisms, write new genetic organisms ex-novo based on previously understood genetic sequences, and modify genetic instructions of existing individuals. This can be done in micro-scale organisms, in human-scale animals and plants, or in our own genetic information.

Manipulation of microscale organisms can be used for several purposes. On the one side, it can be used to create natural “fabrication” organisms that create a given compound that is difficult or expensive to create through non-organic means. On the other side of applications, it can be used to understand and control dangerous bacteria or virus.

Manipulation of human scale animals and plants can be used to improve agricultural output, although it is increasingly being used to add new functionality to organisms for new uses. The level of manipulation available goes far beyond what can be achieved through previous methods of genetically-modified organisms as it can be done from almost scratch.

Finally, manipulating human genetic information is useful to reduce the incidence of known genetic disease. And is increasingly being used beyond that to understand and improve some diseases like cancer. Eventually, it could also be used to improve humans dramatically by eliminating shortcomings (e.g. aging) or adding new functionalities.

Overall, Bioprogramming will have a tremendous and transformative impact on our lives and it brings forth deep and worrisome ethical challenges. However, in terms of sectors of economic activity, it will impact only some sectors. It will probably change healthcare and agriculture completely. It might also have an impact in other industries in which some organic use case can be found. But most industries will not have much direct impact from bioprogramming.

Even though most sectors will not change, we should all be concerned about bioprogramming. The changes we will see in humans could be breathtaking and the potential for change in our society is massive. Receding old age, important healthcare differences between haves and haves nots, designer babies, eugenics and re-genics, super-cattle and super dogs… The decisions we need to take as a society are innumerable and they deal with the core of our legends and myths, life, death, and rebirth.

We are seeing the dawn of the bioprogramming revolution with innovations that seemed beyond science fiction not so long ago:

Facts

  • Artificial Organisms. Creating new organisms
  • Targeted medicine. Medicines for individuals
  • Improved animals and plants. Superfarming.
  • Genetic therapy. Getting the bugs out of the (genetic) code.
  • Protein drugs. Taking pharma research to the next level down.

Speculations

  • Leather and meat fabrication. No cow was hurt preparing this hamburger.
  • Genetic modification. Designer babies.
  •  Genetic mapping. Decoding the spaghetti code of life.

Future scenario: 120-year-old youths

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.