We have learned more about the human brain in the past five years than in the previous 25. The reason for this dramatic increase comes from the convergence of information being created by two technologies.

First, from the outside, today’s brain imaging technologies now make it possible to track the electrical and chemical activity occurring across the brain in real time. This means that we can distinguish the parts of the brain that are involved in different kinds of emotions and thoughts. Second, breakthroughs in biotechnology allow neuroscientists to understand what is occurring inside the cells in the brain. Using both of these technologies, neuroscientists are now able to look at the brain from both the outside and inside. I call this the “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup effect,” because just like chocolate plus peanut butter creates a better result than either one alone, so too do brain imaging and biotechnology create a much clearer understanding of the brain.

The most important application will go toward developing better tools for treating mental illnesses. Today, five of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide—major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, substance abuse, and obsessive-compulsive disorders—are mental issues. These problems are as relevant in developing countries as they are in rich ones. And all predictions point toward a dramatic increase in mental illnesses as people live longer. In the next five years, neurotechnology tools that influence the human brain will prevent memory loss in aging baby boomers. Memory Pharmaceuticals is one recently public company that is currently working on this problem. We are also going to see the development of “neuroceuticals” that will enable the average worker to perform their daily activities in a safer and more effective manner. A good example of this is Provigil, short for “promotes vigilance.” Provigil was originally developed to keep narcoleptics from falling asleep. But recently, the FDA approved its use for shift-line workers and truck drivers. This is just the beginning of a much larger trend, where safe neuroceuticals will be used by common individuals to enable them to perform their work more effectively. As neurotechnology becomes more precise, all aspects of business, including the art of marketing, will be reinvented. Using brain imaging, marketing firms will use brain imaging to understand how and why people buy different products. But “neuromarketing” has a long way to go before we can predict a person’s purchasing decisions. But with billions of dollars at stake, the search for the brain’s “buy button” will definitely be an area of heavy investment.

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