WNSF: Applied Neuroscience and Ramping Up Human Potential with Vivienne Ming

When Vivienne Ming began her neuroscience PhD program in the early 2000s, she wanted to learn how to build cyborgs. Her classmates thought the idea was crazy. Fast forward fifteen years, and the idea doesn’t sound so crazy anymore. What was once purely theoretical is becoming possible. Neuroscience research is rapidly becoming applied neuroscience, and the Bay Area is leading the way, both in terms of conducting innovative research and translating this research into exciting new startups.

These research labs and startups are exploring how our brains respond to advertising, or how video game players multitask, to better understand the human brain—and then enhance it. The implications of this research for all types of businesses are far-reaching and potentially profound. For instance, most people can only remember seven numbers at a time, and the highest IQ individuals max out in the teens. But what if new techniques of applied neuroscience could reliably increase human memory capacity past the commonly accepted limit of seven? And what happens if only some people can afford it?

At this month’s What’s Now: San Francisco, Ming discussed the cutting edge innovation currently underway at UC Berkeley, UCSF, and Stanford, as well as other institutions. One new field is neuroprosthetics—devices that marry neurons to artificial body parts—which promises to help the blind see and the paralyzed walk. But Ming thinks such enhancements are starting down a path towards cyborgs, and could fundamentally change the definition of what it means to be human. Ming believes that technology should challenge us, and push us into spaces we never thought we could go. She argues that we’re just starting to fully understand the real meaning of human potential. At What’s Now, Ming talked about where the field of applied neuroscience is today, and where it may go tomorrow.