Emerging Neurotechnologies That Will Shape the Future

The latest foresight study from Policy Horizons Canada (a predictive planning organisation within the federal government) examins how digital, bio, nano and neuroscience technologies will shape the Canadian economy and society over the next 10 to 15 years, but their effects are likely to be similar in other areas of the world too. The study, titled MetaScan 3: Emerging Technologies, include insights from more than 90 experts from government, the private sector, civil society and academia in the areas of biotechnology, nanotechnology and neuroscience.

The report is structured around 6 areas of technological research and the relative interdependent technologies that are likely to have an impact on society and economy. One of the 6 areas is Neurotechnology and Cognitive Technology (see Infographic below). Of this, three main areas have been pointed out as key for accelerating change:  Neural Network Computing, Extended Cognition and Neural Interfaces.


Predictions of when each technology will be scientifically viable, mainstream, and financially viable have been listed below as reported by Business Insider Australia:

Neural Network Computing

Proactive software agents: Software applications with the capacity of discerning and predicting likely future needs for whomever is being served. Intelligently scheduling meetings, sorting email and selectively notifying the user are potential usages.

Scientifically viable today; mainstream in 2016; financially viable in 2017.

Neural network image recognition: Using hundreds of thousands of processor cores programmed to algorithmically determine the content of a given image. Different from reverse image search, neural network image recognition has the capacity to successfully understand the photo of, for example, a cat, based on thousands of cat pictures.

Scientifically viable today; mainstream in 2021; financially viable in 2022.

Emotion tracking: Using sensors, computer vision and algorithms to correctly identify the likely emotions displayed by individuals in a crowd. Useful in airports and other high-risk facilities.

Scientifically viable today; mainstream in 2018; financially viable in 2019.

Predictive group sentiment analysis: Predicting the likely behaviour of large groups of people based on sociometric input variables like social tension, weather variation, pedestrian flows and degree of agitation is becoming increasingly possible.

Scientifically viable in 2022; mainstream in 2023; financially viable in 2027.

Predictive crime prevention: The use of sociometric sensors coupled with neural networked computers to statistically determine the probability of crime (or other anti-social behaviour) taking place before it happens.

Scientifically viable in 2021; mainstream in 2026; financially viable in 2027.

Extended Cognition

Neural biofeedback: Biofeedback using real-time EEG or fMRI to illustrate brain activity, often with a goal of controlling the central nervous actions.

Scientifically viable today; mainstream in 2015; financially viable in 2017.

Capacitive micromachined ultrasonic transducers: A relatively new concept in the field of ultrasonic transducers where the energy transduction is due to change in capacitance. Can be used to remotely improve alertness, awareness in soldiers, etc.

Scientifically viable in 2016; mainstream in 2019; financially viable in 2020.

Next-generation neuropharmacology: Both behavioural and molecular neuropharmacology are benefitting from rapidly accelerating change. With an increase in technology and improved understanding of the nervous system, the development of drugs will continue to rise with an increase in drug sensitivity and specificity. (Such as neuropharmacological enhancements that work better than caffeine).

Scientifically viable in 2018; mainstream in 2021; financially viable in 2023.

Neuroprosthetics: Neural devices capable of substituting motor, sensory or cognitive modalities that might have been damaged as a result of an injury or a disease. Applications include neural enhancements, advanced cognitive features and extended physiological senses.

Scientifically viable in 2021; mainstream in 2026; financially viable in 2027.

Neural Interfaces

EEG brain-to-computer interfaces: Electroencephalography remains the most feasible practice of executing and implementing brain to brain interfaces. It represents the best temporal-resolution tool for getting a picture of the brain in action, is portable, non-invasive and extremely affordable compared to other methods.

Scientifically viable and mainstream today; financially viable in 2021.

High-resolution fMRI: The next generation of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging involves increasing the spatial and temporal resolution of the imagery. We are likely to see a 14-tesla machines becoming common (as opposed to today’s 3-tesla).

Scientifically viable today; mainstream in 2023; financially viable in 2024.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation: TMS is a noninvasive method to cause depolarization or hyperpolarization in the neurons of the brain using electromagnetic induction to induce weak electric currents using a rapidly changing magnetic field. This can cause activity in specific or general parts of the brain with minimal discomfort, allowing the functioning and interconnections of the brain to be studied.

Scientifically viable today; mainstream in 2019; financially viable in 2022 .

Optogenetic implants in humans: The combination of genetic and optical methods to control specific events in targeted cells of living tissue, even within freely moving mammals and other animals, with the temporal precision (millisecond timescale) needed to keep pace with functioning intact biological systems.

Scientifically viable in 2021; mainstream and financially viable in 2026.

Next-generation brain-to-computer interfaces: Hypothetical interfaces to be used for assisting, augmenting, or repairing human cognitive or sensory-motor functions and communicate thoughts and intentions to the Internet.

Scientifically viable in 2020; mainstream in 2022; financially viable in 2027.

Brain-to-brain interfaces: The hypothetical implementation of brain interfaces that translate thoughts, sensations or impulses into digital signal, converting the data back into the recipient’s brain to enable a certain response from both ends. Loosely interpreted as telepathy, brain interfaces would be able to transmit information from one person so another without any mediation other than the internet, allowing the brain on the receiving end to perform behavioural tasks without training.

Scientifically viable in 2025; mainstream in 2026; financially viable in 2027.