Neuromarketing advances

Paul Raven @ 16-11-2010

Via George Dvorsky, the NYT reports on further developments in the increasingly-technologized voodoo psychology of making you want to buy sh*t you don’t need:

Neuromarketing is simply the latest incarnation, says Joseph Turow, a professor of communication at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. “There has always been a holy grail in advertising to try to reach people in a hypodermic way,” he says.

[ A “hypodermic way”? Interesting choice of language, there; am I the only one who instantly thought of junkies slumped in dark rooms after reading that sentence? ]

Major corporations and research firms, he says, are jumping on the neuromarketing bandwagon because they are desperate for any novel technique to help them break through all the marketing clutter. “It’s as much about the nature of the industry and the anxiety roiling through the system as it is about anything else,” he says.

Personally, I harbour a (totally irrational and unfounded) hope that persuasion marketing will turn out to be a relic of the pre-networked world; when there are infinite channels through which to market, then all marketing is noise, and hence doomed to failure (or at least to being avoided) unless it has a tangible value for the audience independent of the product or service it is trying to sell.

But opinions are divided as to whether neuromarketing might be anything more than the next rung on the ladder up from the focus group:

Mr. Chester says the government traditionally hasn’t restricted advertising for adults because adults have defense mechanisms that can distinguish between truth and untruth.

[ I rather suspect that those “defence mechanisms” are not innate, but learned… and even then only with varying degrees of effectiveness, as a glance at contemporary political debate makes patently clear. ]

“But if the advertising is now purposely designed to bypass those rational defenses, then the traditional legal defenses protecting advertising speech in the marketplace have to be questioned.”

Proponents of the technique, however, say neuromarketing is simply a more accurate barometer of consumer response than traditional focus groups.

Dr. Pradeep of NeuroFocus, for one, says his company will never use subliminal techniques — like embedding stimuli that last 30 milliseconds or less — that people can’t consciously register. And while other neuromarketing firms have been involved in political campaigns, testing candidate speeches and ad scripts, NeuroFocus has not.

“If I persuaded you to choose Toothpaste A or Toothpaste B, you haven’t really lost much, but if I persuaded you to choose President A or President B, the consequences could be much more profound,” Dr. Pradeep says. “The fact that we can use this technology to do this doesn’t mean we should.”

Moreover, at this point, neuromarketing probably isn’t sophisticated enough to realize some of its critics’ worst fears.

Like any technology, neuromarketing is effectively morally neutral; it’s the hand that holds the gun that commits the murder, so to speak. And while I have some concerns about technologized marketing reaching into our brains, I also have the utmost confidence that someone somewhere will be building a spamblocker for it. Everything can and will be hacked.


The case for cognition enhancement advocacy

Paul Raven @ 04-11-2010

It’s yet another hat-tip to George Dvorsky, this time for pointing out a paper by Gary Miller in which he lays out the obstacles in the path of supporters of cognitive enhancement pharmacology, and ways for overcoming such:

I argue that, regardless how miniscule the risks or how blatantly obvious the benefits, a majority of U.S. citizens is unlikely to support the unrestricted dissemination of cognition enhancing drugs, because each individual member of the majority will be led astray by cognitive biases and illusions, as well as logical fallacies.

If this premise is accurate, then the people of the United States may already be suffering an opportunity cost that cannot be recouped. While a minority of the U.S. electorate can challenge the constitutionality of a policy enacted by a majority, a minority cannot sue to challenge the legislature’s refusal to enact a specific policy. In other words, we in the minority have no way of claiming we were harmed by what “good” could have come—but did not come—due to the legislature’s inaction. We cannot claim the “opportunity cost to the greater good” as an injury, and we cannot compel a court to balance that opportunity cost of inaction against the individual interests that dissuaded the majority from action. Our only recourse is to compel the majority to change its stance via persuasion.

Sounds remarkably like Mike Treder’s suggestion that calm rational discussion of the pros and cons is the best way to advance the transhumanist project, no? No big surprise, I guess, given the overlap between the groups in question… though as I said before, as much as it’s the most morally sensible course of action available, I don’t know how much good calm rational advocacy will be on a an irrational and sensationalist political landscape. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.


NEW FICTION: PLATFORM 17 by Stephen Gaskell

Paul Raven @ 01-11-2010

Memory has always been a popular theme in Futurismic‘s fiction selection; maybe that’s a sign of the times, as I seem to blog about neuroscience and memory a lot in recent months, or maybe it’s just one of the frontiers that science fiction will always be best equipped to explore.

Either which way, I’m super proud to have Stephen Gaskell return to the site with “Platform 17”. What would you do to cure your child’s nightmares? Would you go so far as to penetrate to their heart? And what might doing so make you become?

Enjoy!

Platform 17

by Stephen Gaskell

Orsi stroked her son’s head. He slept fitfully, his hair sweaty and matted. From time to time, he moaned, made a low, frightened noise like a cornered animal. She’d rocked him to sleep an hour earlier, then carried him to his bed with numb arms.

“Oh, kicsi,” she whispered, straightening the rumpled blankets. She thought about singing a lullaby, but immediately felt silly at the idea. Csaba was ten, not two.

He jerked his neck back, eyelids twitching. His whole body shuddered and his arm came up to his head as though he were about to shield himself from a blow. “No, no,” he muttered, frantic. The arm across his face trembled, then lurched downwards as if it were being moved against his will. Then, as the previous night and the five before, he began screaming. Not a hearty shriek, but a terrible, hoarse, broken wail like fingernails raking down a blackboard.

“Csaba!” Orsi gripped his shoulders, shook him. “Csaba, wake up! It’s only a dream.”

His eyes blinked open, but he kept screaming. His face was pale, horrified.

“What did he do to you?” Orsi said, hugging her son too hard. “What did your father do to you?”

His screams faded, became whimpers. He didn’t answer. Continue reading “NEW FICTION: PLATFORM 17 by Stephen Gaskell”


Cortical coprocessors: an outboard OS for the brain

Paul Raven @ 27-09-2010

The last time I remember encountering the word “coprocessor” was when my father bought himself a 486DX system with all the bells and whistles, some time back in the nineties. Now it’s doing the rounds in this widely-linked Technology Review article about brain-function bolt-ons; it’s a fairly serious examination of the possibilities of augmenting our mind-meat with technology, and well worth a read. Here’s a snippet:

Given the ever-increasing number of brain readout and control technologies available, a generalized brain coprocessor architecture could be enabled by defining common interfaces governing how component technologies talk to one another, as well as an “operating system” that defines how the overall system works as a unified whole–analogous to the way personal computers govern the interaction of their component hard drives, memories, processors, and displays. Such a brain coprocessor platform could facilitate innovation by enabling neuroengineers to focus on neural prosthetics at an algorithmic level, much as a computer programmer can work on a computer at a conceptual level without having to plan the fate of every individual bit. In addition, if new technologies come along, e.g., a new kind of neural recording technology, they could be incorporated into a system, and in principle rapidly coupled to existing computation and perturbation methods, without requiring the heavy readaptation of those other components.

Of course, the idea of a brain OS brings with it the inevitability of competing OSs in the marketplace… including a widely-used commercial product that needs patching once a week so that dodgy urban billboards can’t trojan your cerebellum and turn you into an unwitting evangelist for under-the-counter medicines and fake watches, an increasingly-popular slick-looking solution with a price-tag (and aspirational marketing) to match, and a plethora of forked open-source systems whose proponents can’t understand why their geeky obsession with being able to adjust the tiniest settings effectively excludes the wider audience they’d love to reach. Those “I’m a Mac / I’m a PC” ads will get a whole new lease of remixed and self-referential life…


We can forget it for you wholesale

Paul Raven @ 23-09-2010

Via Technovelgy comes news of progress in erasing memories using drugs, a mechanism independent of the way said memories actually form. Admittedly, the state of the art so far appears to be making fruit flies forget that certain smells coincided with a shock administered to one of their legs, but hey, you gotta start somewhere…

Fans of memory-erasure should check out Marissa Lingen’s subtle yet highly affecting Futurismic story “Erasing The Map” from back in February 2009. Her fictional erasure is surgical, not chemical, but the moral questions care nothing for the methods used…


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