The new information neuroscience – from Newtonian physics to quantum mechanics

For the long extent of my career from 1980 to 2007, as a pioneer of interactive information our focus was on designing applications and products that would address how people use and value information. I adopted the term infonomics for this discipline and used the concepts of grazing, browsing and hunting to describe how people gather information. All of this was based on the legacy information forms that humans have honed over the millennia.

The advances that are being made today are more profound than just an extension of what went before – an entirely new frontier of human biosocial evolution is opening up. In 1915, the Theory of Relativity changed our world view from the old Newtonian physics to usher in the age of quantum mechanics. No longer was matter just lumps of stuff, but the door was opened to understanding the internal workings of the universe, leading to the modern world as we know it. From atomic energy to semiconductor computers to cell phones, none of it was possible before and all of it became possible after.

In 2007, the iPhone became the first consumer device to incorporate grazing, browsing and hunting, along with phone conversation and then cameras, into a single device. The consequences have been profound, triggering the fastest and most pervasive social change in the history of the human race, as I write about in more detail here. I call this fundamental change in how humans use and value information the Age of Connectivism.

Today, the new frontier of biosocial development is the intersection of information technology and our rapidly expanding understanding of the information biophysics of the human brain. No longer are people just indiscriminate blobs to be addressed by vaguely targeted videos, or asked dumb survey questions. For the first time in history, using techniques like fMRI and PET scans, we can map the brain processes that are actually involved in our perception, learning and reactions.

Sure advertisers can and already are using “psychometrics” to target the preferences of individual people, but the new information physics goes much deeper. By understanding the deep cortical structure of the brain, we can potentially learn more easily than previously thought possible. Connecting these structures with the global connected society, we may be able to┬áthink and do much faster and better than ever thought possible.

Many are seeking ways of directly connecting the brain to the connectosphere of social networked computing. However, even a cursory study of the information dynamics of the brain tells us that it will take much more than just embedding a few electrodes to bypass the sensory systems. Developing new sensory inputs and outputs is no easy task.

The brain evolved around the senses. The sense-compute-act architecture is the same in humans as in all life forms, as I discuss in the theory of constructal infonomics. The fastest and most productive path is to retrain, remodel and repurpose our existing hardware and software.

An early start on this path has been taken by a few pioneering companies. The GlassesOff app improves your vision not by changing your eyes, but by retraining the neural networks in your brain. It demonstrably works and produces testable, verifiable improvements. In my case, the improvement was dramatic and fast, ending my 25 year dependence on reading glasses.

Another prime target for retraining and remodeling our internal “firmware” is language acquisition. Recent studies have revealed important clues about how the connected internal cortexes of the brain cooperate to facilitate learning and understanding. Incorporating these insights into working applications will revolutionize the learning of languages. I will be writing about these and other opportunities in future postings.