Neurotechnology forecasting: stepping stones in financial and technical viability

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Context: I’m working to better understand how neurotechnology will develop in the upcoming decades. This post outlines a potential pathway where neurotechnology is developed first for medical purposes, shortly followed by cognitive enhancement. 1

An Initial Assumption: Eventually, neurotechnology (say, from neural implants or neural stem cells) will be developed enough to restore people with Alzheimers disease to normal-level memory capacity (not necessarily restoring older memories, just retaining new ones). We can make this estimate based on current knowledge about:
– incentives: current economic incentive for research to treat Alzheimers
– knowledge: current scientific knowledge
– base cases: success of initial research
– players: current organizations and people who are working to further develop this research

(I would guess the timeline for this is somewhere around 20 years, although the next claim does not depend on that number.)

Medical Applications, then Enhancement Applications:  Once the above-mentioned medical neurotechnology is developed:
– the remaining technical hurdles to turn it into a cognitive-enhancing product will be significantly smaller, and
– the social and economic incentives to do so will be large enough,
such that it is very likely the technical hurdles will be overcome to adapt it into a cognitive-enhancing neurotechnology. 2

(The timeline for the step from medical to cognitive-enhancing applications is somewhere around 2-10 years. The general prediction is that the medical->consumer step will be shorter than the research->medical step).

So it is very likely that the development of medical-grade neurotechnology will be followed shortly after by consumer-grade enhancement neurotechnology.

Can anyone drill holes in my example, or suggest ways to *test* this hypothesis? How can we develop better methods for making this type of tech forecasting claim?



  1. This post tries to model “stepping stones” in technological progress. I’m guessing there is some kind of model that would predict that once Technology X is developed, Technology Y is very likely to also be developed within N years. I’m currently trying to learn about methods in technology forecasting, and so this may not actually work. Let me know if you can tell me why.
  2. “Cognitive-enhancing” isn’t an all-or-nothing state. This is more of a statement that cognitive enhancing neurotechnology that is significantly more advanced than today’s will probably not be developed through a direct effort, because social and economic incentives for strong cognitive enhancement are not large enough yet. It seems more likely to be developed indirectly, first passing through the medical research route.

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