The Brain is the Next Programmable Platform: The Emerging Experiential Economy

Human beings are unique in our ability to create, share, and be transformed by experiences.  From the day we are born, our brains crave inputs. These experiential inputs shape us into who we are. From the first contact with our mothers’ eyes and smiles, to the day the electrical activity in our brains ceases, we become the sum total of every experience we have ever known.

Our experiences impact our brains in many ways. Years of cumulative experience in the form of formal education can enhance our capabilities and help us realize the potential of our developing minds. On the the other hand, a single horrifying experience, such as bearing witness to trauma, can alter the chemistry of our brains in radical, sudden, and deleterious ways, a phenomenon known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Most of the experiences that shape us as individuals in society have historically been delivered to us in characteristic and predictable ways: schools, communities, religious activities, families, relationships, work, illnesses, and entertainment.

The experiential economy

At an accelerating pace, however, our interactions with digital platforms such as internet-connected mobile phones and virtual reality are enabling us to create powerful new customized experiences that will impact the brain and shape us just like “real” experiences. The more that virtual experiences become indiscernible from other more traditional experiences, the more valuable they will become. As value accrues, we will be increasingly motivated to manufacture and monetize these experiences. We will as individuals and societies create, buy, sell, trade, hedge, and innovate these new experiences over time. This will form the basis for the experiential economy that we are now entering.

The information age brought us to where we are today. We are quickly careening from a scenario in which we are awash with information to one where the information technology begets novel ways to experience the world. The experience of life before the Internet is a different experience than it is for us after ubiquitous and instant access to the world’s information. While those in America with short term memories and continuous technology creep may be less certain of this, one only needs to ask a person in sub-Saharan Africa with a cell phone to confirm this fact.

In most Western societies, we now may be at the point for many where marginal increases in information flow are less impactful than the way that such information can be synthesized into new or improved experiences in life. The primary purpose of information is becoming more about how it is being crafted into new experiences to shape how we approach the world and who we become as people and societies.

The brain is the next programmable platform

My partners and I at JAZZ Venture Partners are actively investing in companies that are the building the fundamental building blocks of this future world of the experiential economy. The amount of innovation in this sphere, and the pace of change, is staggering.

What this leads to is a notion that the brain is the next programmable platform. We are at a point as a species where we are beginning to program our brains with experiences to shape our development and essence, just like programmers can code machines to determine their function and outputs.

Of course there is good and evil in all human endeavors. But it is important to pause, take a deep breath, and realize that this transformation is a net positive: We are at the beginning of the largest saltatory leap in the evolution of our species. We will soon have the ability to unlock the full potential that exists in our brains — on demand.

Neurocompetitive advantage

So rather than worry that computers and robots are replacing us in certain activities, it is more productive to realize that we are now about to start programming our own brains to make us even smarter, more productive, and less susceptible to illness and age-related decline. We are entering into a phase of human existence that will be reflected historically as the era of the rise of the neurocompetitive advantage, as coined by my investment partner Zack Lynch.

This neurocompetitive advantage will be conferred to us as a species, as nation states, and as groups, corporations, and individuals. The arms race that is ensuing is the development of technology platforms such as virtual and augmented reality, neurosensing and neurosignaling, and deep learning and artificial intelligence algorithms. The fuel that powers these technologies as a neurocompetitive advantage in the experiential economy is neuroscience.

Our understanding of our brains enables us to juice these technologies to create broader, deeper, more interactive, and more realistic experiences that program the brain in adaptive and productive ways. This is the next step in our evolution as a species and as global societies.