Volume 2, Issue 3 
3rd Quarter, 2007

Perception Shifting in Neurosociety: Ethical and Societal Implications

Zack Lynch

This article was adapted from a lecture given by Zack Lynch at the 2nd Annual Workshop on Geoethical Nanotechnology, on July 20th, 2006 at the Green Mountain Retreat of Terasem Movement, Inc., Lincoln, VT.

Zack Lynch, Managing Director of NeuroInsights in San Francisco, CA, takes an edifying stroll through an evolutionary, technological timeline and discusses the profound advances of the last 250 years and how they have and will define our lives and society.

What I will share is not a prediction, but more a venture into social forecasting. Why not a prediction? Well, as history shows, people do a very poor job of predicting the future. For example, take Lord Kelvin [1] in 1895 who predicted that heavier than air, flying machines would not ever come into being, yet eight years later, humans were flying.

Or Thomas Edison’s declaration in 1880 that the phonograph he invented would have no commercial value or one of my most recent favorites, the CEO of a home appliance manufacturer who in 1955 predicted that nuclear powered vacuum cleaners would soon become a reality within the next ten years.

Given the difficulty of prediction, how might we try to understand where society is headed in the future? As Ray Kurzweil [2] suggested earlier one of the best ways is to look at history. Of course, there are many ways we divide up history to support our arguments and what I will share with you is just one of those.


Image 1: Using History to Illuminate the Future

When we look back over the past 250 years, we see that since the industrial revolution, there has been a relatively consistent pattern of 50 to 60 year waves where new sets of technologies have emerged to solve problems that were previously believed to be intractable.

In the 1760’s, it was the initial water mechanization wave that sparked the Industrial Revolution and brought inexpensive cotton to the masses. In the 1820’s, the invention of steam power accelerated our ability to trade goods and services with distant markets. The advent of electricity in the 1870’s created the foundation of the modern city, supporting all aspects of what we consider today to be modern life.

Next, the introduction of inexpensive oil motorized the world economy and made air travel possible and most recently, of course, the invention of the microchip [3] which has impacted information analysis and global knowledge exchange. Each of these innovations not only created new industries but completely transformed how individuals across the globe worked and lived.

Given this brief history, what new technologies will emerge in the coming years that are most likely to change our lives and how society operates? This conference is proof of and everyone in this audience would probably agree - this technology is neurotechnology. [4]

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1. William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin - (June 26, 1824–December 17, 1907) was mathematical physicist, engineer, and outstanding leader in the physical sciences of the 19th century. He did important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and thermodynamics, and did much to unify the emerging discipline of physics in its modern form.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Thomson,_1st_Baron_Kelvin  April 25, 2007 12:06PM EST

2. Ray Kurzweil - (born February 12,1948) is a pioneer in the fields of optical character recognition (OCR), text-to-speech synthesis, speech recognition technology, and electronic keyboard instruments. He is the author of several books on health, artificial intelligence, transhumanism, technological singularity, and futurism.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_Kurzweil  April 25, 2007 12:24PM EST

3. Invention of the microchip - Two separate inventors, unaware of each other's activities, invented almost identical integrated circuits or ICs at nearly the same time.  Jack Kilby, an engineer with a background in ceramic-based silk screen circuit boards and transistor-based hearing aids, started working for Texas Instruments in 1958. A year earlier, research engineer Robert Noyce had co-founded the Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation. From 1958 to 1959, both electrical engineers were working on an answer to the same dilemma: how to make more of less.
http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa080498.htm   April 25, 2007 12:50PM EST

4. Neurotechnology - the set of tools that analyze and influence the human nervous system, especially the brain. These technologies include neural modeling simulations, biological computers, human-brain interfaces, any of various neuron and brain mapping technologies, and psychopharmaceuticals.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurotechnology  April 25, 2007 12:54PM EST



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