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Human Brain Research – The Developing Tools

Nano TechnologyInnovation. Technology breakthroughs. Interdisciplinary efforts. All of this is providing the opportunity for more scientific and comprehensive brain research. More specifically, the convergence of breakthroughs in biogenetics, nanotechnology, and neuroscience; coupled with advanced microelectronics and data processing; has led to new tools and devices for brain research and understanding. We highlight a few of these to show the possibilities.

First there are advanced imaging technologies that have led to new techniques and instrumentation that is already being used. Short summaries of the most common are provided in a post on psychcentral.com. (1) These include:

  • PET (Positron Emission Tomography). PET uses small amounts of radioactive materials injected into the body, a special camera, and a computer to evaluate organ and tissue functions. By identifying changes at the cellular level, PET appears be able to detect which parts of the brain are affected during specific tasks.
  • Variations of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) such as Functional MRI (fMRI) and Diffusion MRI (also called Diffusion Tensor Imaging – DTI). With fMRI the small changes in blood flow that occur with brain activity are measured and mapped. Thus, it is possible to determine which parts of the brain are handling critical functions or to evaluate the effects of stroke or other disease. With DTI the diffusion of water molecules in the brain is measured. Since water molecules within brain tissue tend to diffuse most rapidly along parallel bundles of fibers, this makes it possible to estimate the location, orientation, and anisotropy of the brain’s white matter tracts. In other words, it is possible to measure the pathways and structure of fiber nerve bundles connecting various parts of the brain. This understanding of which part of the brain is connected (or not connected) to which other parts can be used to investigate brain “malfunctions” due to injury or disease.
  • Magnetoencephalography (MEG). Instead of measuring electrical impulses, MEG measures magnetic fields outside the head, produced by electrical activity occurring naturally in the brain. Thus, it is possible to produce far more precise and higher resolution images of the brain than before and even to determine the function of various parts of the brain. To do this, very sensitive arrays of magnetometers called SQUIDS (superconducting quantum interference devices developed by quantum physicists) are used. Typically, these sensors are housed in a cooled, helmet-shaped container in which the subject places on their head during testing.

To summarize, the above tools allow researchers to identify the parts of the brain that are active during a specific task or event by showing on a screen the parts of the brain that “light up” under different circumstances. Why is this important? Unlike earlier beliefs, it has now been observed that even relatively simple tasks require the activation of numerous and specific interconnected parts of the brain. Therefore, understanding brain connections and interactions is much more important in addressing brain issues such as injury or dementia than was previously thought.

But these imaging techniques are only a start. Following are a few examples of developing, longer-range possibilities.

  • In one example, real time imaging of interactions at the cellular level, coupled with advanced data processing, is being used to reveal patterns of neural activity. Specifically, “Scientists have devised a new system that lets them watch human neurons grown in the lab find and form connections with their signaling partners, an essential process in developing human brains. The processing of “wiring up” is thought to go awry in a number of serious disorders, including autism, epilepsy and schizophrenia – but it’s hard to study.” (2)
  • And there is another experimental approach to creating brain wiring diagrams that combines genetic engineering and nanoscale imaging. This technique monitors biofluorescence in insect brains to create maps of the neural connections of the entire brains. In other words, “Scientists have developed new technology that allows them to see which neurons are talking to which other neurons in live, genetically engineered fruit flies.” This technology which traces the flow of information across synapses is called TRACT (Transneuronal Control of Transcription). “TRACT allows researchers to observe which neurons are “talking” and which neurons are “listening” by prompting the connected neurons to produce glowing proteins.” (3)
  • And then there is the gene editing technology called CRISPR. This technique has been used to create genetic mutations that have been associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, making it possible to study these “defects” in the laboratory. (4)
  • One final example. There is a new, high-sensitivity, laser-based technique that can be used to look inside a person’s skull and measure brain blood flow. This technique, based on Diffuse Correlation Spectroscopy (DCS), is called “interferometric diffusing wave spectroscopy,” or iDWS. “Laser light is shined on the head; as photons from the laser pass through the skull and brain, they are scattered by blood and tissue. A detector placed elsewhere on the head, where the photons make their way out again, picks up the light fluctuations due to blood motion.” (6) The information gathered about blood flow can be used to help patients with traumatic brain injuries and strokes.

As the above examples show, progress is being made rapidly in developing new tools for brain research and understanding. But all of this is just a start. In future blogs we will give additional examples of new techniques, how they are being utilized, and even some results. You are welcome to comment or add to our list.


  1. Michael Demitri, “Types of Brain Imaging Techniques,” July 17, 2016, https://psychcentral.com/lib/types-of-brain-imaging-techniques/
  2. Sergiu P. Pasca, “New Technique Lets Researchers Watch Human Brain Circuits Begin to Wire-Up,” July 18, 2017, https://www.bbrfoundation.org/content/new-technique-lets-researchers-watch-human-brain-circuits-begin-wire
  3. “New technology will create brain wiring diagrams,” California Institute of Technology, January 12, 2018, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180112095938.htm
  4. Michael Talkowski, “Genetic Anomalies Frequently Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders Can Now Be Efficiently Recreated in the Lab,” April 11, 2016, https://www.bbrfoundation.org/content/genetic-anomalies-frequently-associated-neurodevelopmental-disorders-can-now-be-efficiently
  5. “New technology for measuring brain blood flow with light,” University of California – Davis, April 11, 2018, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180427144549.htm

Human Brain Research: Major Investments Around the Globe

Economic PowersIn the last few years, there has been an increased awareness of the importance of advanced brain research, and this has been accompanied by major investments by governments around the globe. So, who are the key players, and what are their goals? We start with our own country.

In support of broader brain research, on April 2, 2013 President Obama launched the so-called “BRAIN Initiative.” It stands for “Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neuro-technologies.” Three government agencies are involved: The National Institutes of Health (NIH), The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and The National Science Foundation (NSF). The White House offered this description of the possible long-term outcomes of the more than one billion dollar BRAIN Initiative: “The BRAIN Initiative has the potential to do for neuroscience what the Human Genome Project did for genomics by supporting the development and application of innovative technologies that can create a dynamic understanding of brain function. It aims to help researchers uncover the mysteries of brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and traumatic brain injury (TBI).” More information can be found on the Web site braininitiative.org.

In addition, a report issued by NIH in June 2014 entitled “Brain 2025, A Scientific Vision” states: “Over recent years, neuroscience has advanced to the level that we can envision a comprehensive understanding of the brain in action, spanning molecules, cells, circuits, systems, and behaviors… The focus [of the BRAIN Initiative] is not on technology per se, but on the development and use of tools for acquiring fundamental insight about how the nervous system works in health and disease.”

But the United States is not alone in large, high priority, billion dollar efforts to understand the human brain. Also in 2013, the European Union launched a major effort, parallel to the U.S. BRAIN Initiative, called “The Human Brain Project.” The main aim of this project, as described on its Web site (humanbrainproject.eu), is to “empower brain research toward understanding the human brain and its diseases to advance brain medicine and computing technology.” Specifically, the European project is focused on helping researchers access and share collections of brain data from different species, thus allowing them to accelerate the understanding of the brain through advanced computer simulations. It is believed this will ultimately lead to the development of targeted new treatments and diagnosis for brain related diseases and trigger new approaches to brain inspired systems for AI (artificial intelligence) and robotics.

Then in 2014, Japan initiated its ten-year Brain/MINDS (Brain Mapping by Integrated Neurotechnologies for Disease Studies) Project. Its goal is to map the primate brain to accelerate understanding of human disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. Although this program is much smaller than its U.S. and European counterparts, it is seen as key because it is based on a unique, genetic primate population which is a closer match to the human brain than the small animals being used in other projects. For more information see the Web site brainminds.jp/en and the October 2014 article in Nature (1)

And one cannot ignore China. The 2016 Chinese R&D five-year plan lists Brain Research as one of the nation’s top priorities, with resources to be channeled through the “China Brain Project.” Although China has lagged the US and Europe in brain research, this focus and the accompanying investment may change that. As noted in an article in Nature in 2016: “China’s neuroscience community is growing — the Chinese Neuroscience Society now has 6,000 members, compared to just 1,500 ten years ago; the country has tens of millions of patients with psychiatric or degenerative brain disease that will facilitate clinical studies; and it has hundreds of thousands of research monkeys. This last factor has already allowed Chinese researchers to take the lead in using gene-editing technologies to produce models of autism and other conditions.” (2)

So, the foundations have been laid, but many things have changed on the world stage since 2013. As far as the US is concerned, the level of government support for science research is a growing issue. If budgets are tight, what should the priority of brain research be? What are the recent results from these initiatives/projects? Does it matter whether the US has a leadership position? These are some of the questions we will address in future posts.


 

  1. David Cyranoski, “Marmosets are stars of Japan’s ambitious brain project: Ten-year brain-mapping effort will use monkeys to study human neural and mental disorders,” Nature, October 8, 2014, https://www.nature.com/news/marmosets-are-stars-of-japan-s-ambitious-brain-project-1.16091
  2. David Cyranoski, “What China’s latest five-year plan means for science: Oceanography, brain science and stem cells among research fields that look set to grow,” Nature, March 18, 2016, https://www.nature.com/news/what-china-s-latest-five-year-plan-means-for-science-1.19590#/brain

 

Human Brain Research – An Introduction

Brain IntelligenceHumans have explored much of the earth and some of the depths of the oceans, but there is something even more mysterious and powerful which is much closer to us. It is the human brain, the most complex living structure that we know of in the universe! But to date, the human brain has only been explored in a relatively limited fashion.

We know that the human brain inspires or controls not just our actions, but our emotions and personalities, our likes and our dislikes, our beliefs and our cravings. In other words, we know that many observable effects originate from the human brain—physical movements, mental diseases, old-age dementia, cowardice, piety, cruelty, habits, fanaticism, and more. But we have only limited knowledge about which specific structures and/or interconnections within the brain cause such effects, and more important, how. Thus, we are primitive in our trial-and-error approaches to modifying those physical and mental traits considered harmful with things such as drugs or electrical stimulation or surgical interventions.

One thing we do know: The brain is not just a rational computer. It directs the actions and affects the beliefs of an individual, but it varies from one individual to the next. Think about the contradictions created by brains of very different people. The brain of Hitler made him kill seven million of his citizens, mostly because they were Jewish; while the brain of Mother Theresa made her help hundreds of people who were too poor to help themselves, no matter what their race or religion. Genghis Kahn, known as the “scourge of God,” is famous for his extreme acts of cruelty during his conquests in western Europe; while Francis of Assisi practiced charity to all living beings, including (unusual for the times) animals. These are just a few examples of individuals who were led by their brains to live very different lives.

We also know that, controlled by their brains, different people react differently to unusual circumstances, such as “silence and solitude.” This type of environment can spur creativity in some but can lead to insanity in others. And both insanity and creativity can coexist in the same brain as in the case of famous artists like Van Gogh.

The human brain also has caused specific populations to migrate across the globe over time, ultimately populating the whole earth. But not all populations were led to move from their original location. Some preferred to stay where they were, even if the environments were extremely harsh. Why?

And the human brain allows us to transmit ideas and knowledge from one generation to the next. As J. F. Kennedy once said, referring to democracy, “A man may die. Nations rise and fall. But an idea lives on. Ideas have endurance without death.”

What would advances and breakthroughs in understanding and controlling the human brain mean for humanity and the business community? The possibilities are vast, and progress is being made. The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser, and Edvard Moser for discovering the networks of cells that form the brain’s navigational system. This fundamental work in neuroscience on a nanoscale could have applications in Alzheimer’s and other diseases, but it is just the beginning. Through brain research, we may find infinite new ways to harness its power and use it—for good or for bad. We do not know yet what they all are, but they will have a major impact on humanity, including human interactions and even business interactions.

So, what are the major brain research programs? What new tools are available for investigating how the brain functions? What are the latest results? We will explore these questions and more in future blogs. If you are interested, check back occasionally and feel free to add your comments or make suggestions for future topics.

Big Data and YOU: The Promises and the Concerns

by Carol L. Fatuzzo and Ennio Fatuzzo

 

BACKGROUND

Web surveillanceIn our book “Creating New Superstars” (1) and in a previous blog, we focused on Big Data and Business. Now we take a brief look at the more personal side of Big Data: the reality, the promises, and the concerns.

As you must be aware, today vast quantities of data about people (including you) and their interactions with the outside world are being accumulated at unprecedented rates and stored in digital form. This rapidly increasing, already huge, storehouse of personal information is part of what is known as “Big Data.”

Where is this personal information coming from? Everything we do online, such as shopping and banking, leaves a record. But there are a growing number of other sources: social media, google, smartphones and other smart devices, electronic medical records, military and government data bases, surveillance cameras, and much more.

Collecting and storing personal Big Data digitally has become easy and is pervasive, but it is only the beginning. For this vast amount of information to be useful, there must be the ability to access the data rapidly and reliably; and there must be tools that can quickly analyze an immense amount of seemingly unrelated information, and make useful connections. And all of this is now reality. Faster and more powerful computers coupled with software advances (e.g., “artificial intelligence”) are rapidly opening doors to new analytic capabilities.

USES OF PERSONAL BIG DATA

Many large companies and organizations already have access to the growing collection of personal Big Data and are taking advantage of the advanced analytic capabilities. Common examples are targeted marketing and credit checks. And this is only the beginning. There are many less obvious ways personal Big Data is starting to impact your everyday life, including tracking your physical activities and location and even determining choices offered to you in bars and restaurants (2, 3).

Another growing use of Big Data is in sports. Not only individual players’ moves, but entire game strategies can be analyzed to improve players’ performances and/or game strategies. And then there are the fans. Analyzing fan generated Big Data is leading to techniques for generating stronger fan support and providing extra (and more profitable) event-based services. (4)

Then there is the healthcare segment. Here collection and analysis of personal Big Data is already leading to major advances such as improvements in healthcare outcomes (including saving lives), remote patient monitoring and real-time alerting, more cost-effective treatments, programs to prevents opioid abuse, accelerating cancer research, providing access to the latest treatments being tested, and much more. (5,6)

What we have described so far is only the beginning. To repeat, sources of personal Big Data are exploding (GPS tracking, wellness monitoring, surveillance of financial transactions, facial recognition, education records….) as are the capabilities for sophisticated analysis and uses for this data. And yes, the collection and use of personal Big Data has many positives. There is no question that the future benefits arising from the combination of big data and advanced analytics will be immense.

THE CONCERNS

But there is a downside. As summarized by McKinsey and Company: “Privacy issues will continue to be a major concern. Although new computer programs can readily remove names and other personal information from records being transported into large databases, stakeholders across the industry must be vigilant and watch for potential problems as more information becomes public.” (5)

But there is an even more serious concern. So far, we have focused on the use of personal Big Data by businesses and other private or public organizations. It is an entirely different situation when governments enter the arena. A number of articles have raised the concern about Big Data in the hands of government evolving into “Big Brother.” Following we repeat one example of this from our January blog “Big Data: An Exploding Agent of Change.”

Recent articles have focused on a data collection and analysis project being run by the Chinese communist party to develop what they call a “social-credit system.” (7, 8) To summarize, using Big Data technologies, the project’s objective is to develop a system to collect and categorize as “good” or “bad” all available information for each individual citizen. Ultimately, rewards for good behavior (e.g., prizes, better housing) and punishments for bad behavior (e.g., denial of permissions to travel or access to loans and services) would be handed out—all this aimed at improving the allegiance of citizens to the State.

Will China be successful? How far will other governments go towards using Big Data to become “Big Brother” watching over each citizen? Certainly, these are valid concerns. And for those who watch the Television series “A Person of Interest,” it may occur to them that the project described above is much more dangerous than the situation portrayed by the TV series. The latter only monitors each person in real time, but the Chinese scenario not only does this but also builds a history of everything each citizen has done and uses that information for its own purposes.

Yes, the growing availability and use of personal Big Data presents serious concerns. However, keep in mind that every breakthrough new technology has the potential for both good and bad. It all depends on the intentions of those who develop and apply the technology.


 

REFERENCES

1. Ennio Fatuzzo and Carol L. Fatuzzo, Creating New Superstars: A Guide to Businesses that Soar above the Sea of Normality (USA: September 2016). Available for purchase from amazon: http://amzn.to/2hAn6dy.

2. “Big Data in Our Everyday Life,” February 10, 2017, Nordic-IT, https://nordic-it.com/big-data-everyday-life/

3. Mona Lebied, “5 Big Data Examples in Your Real Life At Bars, Restaurants, and Casinos,” Business Intelligence, May 4th 2017, http://www.datapine.com/blog/big-data-examples-in-real-life/

4. “Big Data in Sports: Going for the Gold,” inside BIGDATA, June 4, 2017, https://insidebigdata.com/2017/06/04/big-data-sports-going-gold/

5. Basel Kayyali, David Knott, and Steve Van Kuiken, “The Big-Data Revolution in US Health Care: Accelerating Value and Innovation,” McKinsey & Company, http://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/the-big-data-revolution-in-us-health-care

6. Mona Lebied, “9 Examples of Big Data Analytics in Healthcare that can Save People, Business Intelligence, May 24th 2017, http://www.datapine.com/blog/big-data-examples-in-healthcare/

7. Jamie Condliffe, “China Turns Big Data into Big Brother,” MIT Technology Review, November 29, 2016, https://www.technologyreview.com/s/602987/china-turns-big-data-into-big-brother/

8. “China invents the digital totalitarian state: The worrying implications of its social-credit project,” The Economist, December 17, 2016, https://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21711902-worrying-implications-its-social-credit-project-china-invents-digital-totalitarian

Superstar Technologies for Superstar Companies

 

TECHNOLOGY LAUNCHING PADS – AN INTRODUCTION by Carol L. Fatuzzo and Ennio Fatuzzo

Launching-padYes, our book “Creating New Superstars” is a guide for achieving extreme business growth. And yes it addresses topics such as business creativity and brilliant leadership. But it focuses on explosively developing new technologies and their power. Why? A superstar company’s exponential growth requires exponential change in the technology on which the business is based. And today, for the first time in history, the explosion of advances in Microelectronics, the Internet, and Biogenetics offer this possibility. We call these technologies “Launching Pads.”

These three technology Launching Pads, alone and/or in combination, are changing our world and creating new high growth business opportunities at unprecedented rates. Thus, in our fast-paced, technology-rich environment, it is impossible to ignore these technology-based forces that are shaping the future for business and for humanity.

MICROELECTRONICS

Consider Microelectronics. Is Microelectronics-based technology (integrated circuits) THE basic Launching Pad? It has given birth to or at least enabled our other two Launching Pads, so at the very least it is a basic building block for them. Think about it. The Internet wouldn’t have the enormous impact on the world it does today without the rapid increases in speed and data handling enabled by advances in Microelectronics. And Biogenetics would not be making its radical breakthroughs without the advanced computers and digital equipment based on Microelectronics that it uses as tools.

However you look at it, Microelectronics has created an ongoing revolution. It is pervasive and changing the world as we know it due to rapid advances in the technology. But the advances in Microelectronics are not just rapid. They are being made at exponentially increasing rates as the doubling of microprocessor capabilities roughly every two years for the past several decades show. The resulting rapidly shrinking size of integrated circuits and the increased number of these tiny devices fitting on smaller and smaller chips has resulted in dramatic increases in computer processing speeds, data storage capacities, and more—much more. These radical improvements in digital electronics have irreversibly changed nearly every segment of the global economy.

However, keep in mind that nothing is forever. If we had to make a prediction, we would pick the younger and more embryonic Biogenetics Launching Pad to be the successor to Microelectronics in the not-too-distant future.

BIOGENETICS

What is Biogenetics? Today, the process commonly used in Medical Biotechnology is genetic engineering. Genetic engineering refers to scientific procedures that allow the direct manipulation of genetic material to alter the hereditary traits of a cell, organism, or population. Hence the name Biogenetics. Today’s blockbuster drugs and the superstar businesses that have commercialized them are the basis of this newest technology Launching Pad.

But this is just the beginning. Breakthrough advances in Biogenetics are being made at an ever-increasing pace. Four of these emerging and rapidly developing areas—cloning of genes and organisms, stem cell research, and the genome editing technologies of TALENs and CRISPR—appear to us to be the most promising. Clearly, although still in its infancy, Biogenetics is a technologically rich area with perhaps an even greater potential than Microelectronics.

NANOMEDICINE

But what about new Launching Pads? As an example, we turn to a rapidly advancing area of science and engineering—the field of Nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is a very broad area of research involving dimensions less than 100 nanometers, but much of its promise is in the future. However, we believe that Nanomedicine, the rapidly advancing Life Science-based segment of Nanotechnology, has the potential to be a new Launching Pad on its own in the near term.

Simply stated, Nanomedicine is the application of Nanotechnology to medicine. It involves the monitoring, repair, construction and control of human biological systems at the molecular level, using engineered nanodevices and nanostructures. It ranges from the medical applications of nanomaterials to nanoscale biosensors and even to possible applications of programmable nanomachines and nanorobots—devices that would allow medical doctors to execute procedures in the human body at the cellular and molecular levels.

Nanobiosensors for measuring glucose, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. Injectable, wireless nanobots that carry out medical tasks, gather diagnostics and even deliver drugs into the bloodstream. Self-assembled, DNA based nanodevices for molecular scale diagnostics and smart drug delivery. Quantum wires for real-time sensing of biomarker proteins for cancer. Nanorobots for repairing damaged tissue, unblocking arteries, and replacing damaged organs. And the list goes on and on. Nanomedicine technology possibilities are endless and world-changing.

NEW SCIENCE FOR NEW LAUNCHING PADS

And what about technology Launching Pads in the longer term? There are many possibilities, including current areas of research such as Complexity Science, Subatomic Particles, the Makeup of the Universe, and the Search for Life beyond Earth. However, the path from a scientific discovery to a Launching Pad is long. So, the only certainty is that there will be new technology Launching Pads, and they will change the world.

A CAUTION

We are rapidly approaching a technology treasure room with many doors. Beyond each door, there is the potential for both great good and great harm. Only two things are certain. Which doors we open and when will determine the future of humankind and life as we know it. And once a door is opened, it can never be closed. Everything will change forever.

Should we open these doors? Will we?  The answer to the last question is simple: Yes, because humans always have and always will.


creating_new_superst_cover_for_kindle

 

For more detailed and easy-to-understand information on the technologies highlighted above and their impacts, see “Creating New Superstars” by Carol L. Fatuzzo and Ennio Fatuzzo, available from amazon: http://amzn.to/2hAn6dy

Technology Supremacy: U.S. versus China

Technology Supremacy: U.S. versus China

by Carol L. Fatuzzo and Ennio Fatuzzo

 

USA versus China

Today, the U.S. is clearly the overall, global technology leader.But the U.S. and China are in a technology race for the future, and U.S. continued superiority is not a given. As evidence, just look at the titles of a few recent news articles (references at the end):

  • “China’s Intelligent Weaponry Gets Smarter”
  • “Plan for $10 Billion Chip Plant Shows China’s Growing Pull”
  • “These 6 Chinese Tech Giants are Ramping Up the Pace of Innovation for the World”
  • “China’s Plan to Build Its Own High-Tech Industries Worries Western Businesses”
  • “These 6 Chinese Tech Giants Are Ramping Up the Pace of Innovation for the World”
  • “China’s Plan to Build Its Own High-Tech Industries Worries Western Businesses”
  • “As U.S. R&D languishes, China pushes precision medicine envelope”

RESEARCH SPENDING ON TECHNOLOGY/SCIENCE

Why does China’s growing technology presence matter? To better understand the concern and the dangers, take a step back and consider how the U.S. gained technology leadership in the first place, and what its importance has been. Basically, in the last century, the countries with highest investment in R&D (Research and Development) ended up with technical superiority and significant competitive advantage. Specifically, in the second half of the 20th century the race was between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, with the U.S. spending more and winning. And this supremacy resulted in world and business leadership for the U.S. in many ways—a position the U.S. still enjoys today. But is this vanishing?

We assume that this relationship between R&D spending and leadership will continue, so consider current R&D expenditures by country. The two countries that top the list of actual dollars spent in 2016 are the U.S. with $457 billion and China with $369 billion. Japan is a distant third with $166B in spending, and it goes downhill from there. So what is the concern? The U.S. is still leading.

Current R&D spending isn’t the whole story. It’s also important to consider changes in the rate of spending. Starting from far behind (primarily as a result of Mao’s “Cultural Revolution”) China has shown a surprising and consistent average annual growth rate of around 18% in R&D spending over the last few years. And its newest government mandated and controlled 5-year plan forecasts that rate to continue. Compare this to the U.S. which has had an average (but variable) 3-4% increase in R&D spending over the same time. Even more concerning, it is expected that the current government policies will decrease this. The result? Even if the U.S. maintains its current rate of spending, China is on a path to surpass the U.S. in total R&D spending in less than a decade.

Where is China focusing its efforts? The new 5-year plan highlights the following priorities/initiatives, and we have added examples to show some already notable Chinese accomplishments:

  1. Quantum Communications and Computation (government saying they will spend over $100 billion to bring chip factories and research facilities to China, successful launch of world’s first quantum communications satellite with developing/implementing secure encryption a goal)
  2. Brain Research (an operational Institute with more than 4,000 working scientists, a new15 year project focusing on early detection of brain diseases and brain-machine intelligence)
  3. National Cyberspace Security (intelligent weapons with a focus on robotics and artificial intelligence, closely related to the Quantum Communications Initiative)
  4. Deep Space Exploration (completion of the world’s largest radio telescope – Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope [FAST] to understand how the cosmos evolved and search for extraterrestrial life, successful launch of the Long March 5 rocket, focus on missions to the moon and Mars)
  5. Clean, Efficient use of coal (development of processes such as high efficiency combustion and carbon capture and storage, increased focus on renewable energy)
  6. Industrial, Medical and Military Robots (Hong Kong chemists create micro swimmers that can be controlled by light, robotics industry explosively growing)
  7. Applications of Gene Science (plans to spend more than $9 billion on “precision medicine” which will match patients to drugs based on genetics, active research in cloning including success in cloning human embryos)
  8. Big Data Applications (comprehensive personal data collection and analysis project being run by the Chinese communist party to develop what they call a “social-credit system”)
  9. Deep Sea Experimental Platform (manned, deep sea platform in the South China Sea to hunt for minerals, also military purposes)
  10. New Arctic Observatory. Antarctic Station (construction of a research facility in Iceland, positioning to protect/expand China’s economic, scientific, political, strategic ambitions—climate change, mineral rights, geothermal energy)

INNOVATION

R&D spending is important, but there is another critical factor determining technology supremacy. We (and many other) believe innovation, or “creativity” as we called it in our book “Creating New Superstars: A Guide to Businesses that Soar above the Sea of Normality” (available from Amazon.com), is an essential companion to R&D spending for developing and maintaining technological supremacy and using that power. And the U.S. has long been the leader in creativity and innovation and its application to business. This has resulted in the vast majority of the most innovative companies (including the top 10 from Fast Company’s 100 list) being U.S. based.

But we aren’t alone in our belief. China states that its top priority is “innovation,” and they are devoting dollars and people to this purpose as a part of the first sub-plan under the new Five Year Plan. Chinese efforts to enhance innovation include building key science innovation parks and attracting top-tier science and technology researchers from all over the world. Research emphasis is on areas that include clean and efficient energy and fifth-generation mobile telecommunication.

And innovation in research isn’t all the Chinese are doing. Numerous Chinese companies are now focusing on innovation with growing success. As evidence, in their newest list of the world’s 100 most innovative companies, Fast Company lists 6 Chinese companies (ranked 11-16). Fast Company also clearly summarizes the developing US-China situation:

“China now ties or tops the U.S. market in online retail, mobile device sales, digital payments, gaming, renewable energy investments, and more. With more than half of its 1.37 billion citizens online, 90% of them via smartphone, China has seen an explosion of tech behemoths and upstarts driving innovation hubs like Beijing and Shenzhen to become more hypercompetitive than even Silicon Valley.” (Reference 3)

Yes China is making progress, but the U.S. is still leading. Why does creativity prosper here in the U.S., and why do we believe the U.S. will continue to be the innovation leader? We posit that creativity and the resulting business innovation prospers in Countries where there is most freedom—freedom not only to create new ideas but also to make mistakes and rebound. And we guess that there is more freedom in a scientific institution here than in a large government institute in China.

But there is an exception. In the field of Biotechnology and the applications of Gene science there are moral and ethical concerns in the U.S. that are placing constraints on research. Apparently, this isn’t the case in China, foreshadowing a growing global dilemma.

So, in the end, what will happen? Who will “win?” There is no simple answer. Yes, there is a technology race between the U.S. and China with fierce competition, but there also is a growing co-dependency—in trade, in business, and even in science. In a world of growing complexity, it is difficult to predict the future, but the concerns are clear.

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REFERENCES

Following are references which provide the data and other information provided above. In most cases, the titles clearly explain the content. For those seriously interested in the developing and complex U.S.-China technology relationship, we suggest taking the time to read a few of these articles.

  1. John Markoff and Matthew Rosenberg, “China’s Intelligent Weaponry Gets Smarter,” New York Times, February 3, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/03/technology/artificial-intelligence-china-united-states.html?
  2. Paul Mozur, “Plan for $10 Billion Chip Plant Shows China’s Growing Pull,” February 10, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/10/business/china-computer-chips-globalfoundries-investment.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share&_r=0
  3. Austin Carr, “These 6 Chinese Tech Giants are Ramping Up the Pace of Innovation for the World,” Fast Company, February13, 2017, https://www.fastcompany.com/3067467/most-innovative-companies/these-six-chinese-tech-giants-are-ramping-up-the-pace-of-innovatio
  4. Keith Bradsher and Paul Mozart, “China’s Plan to Build Its Own High-Tech Industries Worries Western Businesses,” New York Times, March 7, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/07/business/china-trade-manufacturing-europe.html?
  5. Paul Murphy, “As U.S. R&D languishes, China pushes precision medicine envelope,” Bloomberg Government, January 6, 2017, https://about.bgov.com/blog/u-s-rd-languishes-china-pushes-precision-medicine-envelope/
  6. Loren Grush, “China is catching up to the US on science and engineering spending, report finds,” theverge.com, Jan 19, 2016, http://www.theverge.com/2016/1/19/10793294/science-engineering-investment-china-vs-us-national-science-board
  7. Kathleen McLaughlin, “Science is a major plank in China’s new spending plan,” sciencemag.org, Mar. 7, 2016, http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/03/science-major-plank-china-s-new-spending-plan
  8. “Report: U.S. Global Lead in R&D at Risk as China Rises,” American Institute of Physics, Feb 1, 2016, https://www.aip.org/fyi/2016/report-us-global-lead-rd-risk-china-rises
  9. Crisp in Maslow, “Asia-Pacific Analysis: R&D spending boosts development,” scidev.net, October 24, 2016, http://m.scidev.net/asia-pacific/r-d/analysis-blog/asia-pacific-analysis-r-d-spending-boosts-development.html
  10. “2016 GLOBAL R&D FUNDING FORECAST,” http://www.iriweb.org, http://www.rdmag.com, Winter 2016, https://www.iriweb.org/sites/default/files/2016GlobalR%26DFundingForecast_2.pdf
  11. “How much do countries invest in R&D? New UNESCO data tool reveals emerging players,” Unesco.org, September 14, 2016, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/media-services/single-view/news/how_much_do_countries_invest_in_rd_new_unesco_data_tool_re/
  12. Kevin Holden, “South China: A rising power in science,” Science, December 16, 2016, http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/features/2016/12/south-china-rising-power-science
  13. Stephen Clark, “Chinese satellite to begin quantum communications experiments,” spaceflightnow.com, August 15, 2016, https://spaceflightnow.com/2016/08/15/chinese-satellite-to-begin-quantum-communications-experiments/
  14. “China Brain Project to Launch Soon, Aiming to Develop Effective Tools for Early Diagnosis of Brain Diseases,” English.cas.cn, June 17, 2016, http://english.cas.cn/newsroom/news/201606/t20160617_164529.shtml
  15. Andrew Jones, “China outlines its space exploration ambitions: Missions to the Moon and Mars will dominate China’s focus,” planetary.org, December 27, 2016, http://www.planetary.org/blogs/guest-blogs/2016/1227-china-outlines-its-space-ambitions.html
  16. Rebecca Morelle, “China’s colossal radio telescope begins testing,” BBC News, September 25, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-37453933
  17. Mike Ives, “China’s drive to clean up its coal power, one plant at a time,” New Scientist, August 22, 2016, https://www.newscientist.com/article/2101780-chinas-drive-to-clean-up-its-coal-power-one-plant-at-a-time/
  18. “Robotics industry booms in China,” China Daily, October 28, 2016, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/business/tech/2016-10/28/content_27199664.htm
  19. Soap Tin Soh, “The rise of China’s medical robotics sector,” Robohub, December 22, 2016, http://robohub.org/the-rise-of-chinas-medical-robotics-sector/
  20. Prachi Patel, “These Microscopic Bots Could Swim through the Bloodstream to Deliver Drugs,” Scientific American, February 1, 2017, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/these-microscopic-bots-could-swim-through-the-bloodstream-to-deliver-drugs/
  21. “China invents the digital totalitarian state: The worrying implications of its social-credit project,” The Economist, Dec 17, 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21711902-worrying-implications-its-social-credit-project-china-invents-digital-totalitarian
  22. “China Is Planning a Massive Sea Lab 10,000 Feet Underwater,” Bloomberg News, June 7, 2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-07/china-pushes-plan-for-oceanic-space-station-in-south-china-sea
  23. Dorothee Thiesing and Jill Lawless, “China’s Arctic Ambitions Take Shape In Remote Iceland Valley,” Associated Press, November 16, 2016, http://www.apnewsarchive.com/2016/China%27s_Arctic_ambitions_take_shape_in_remote_Iceland_valley/id-9804071dd97844cbaa53980ce517def2#
  24. Andreas Raspotnik, “Solar-terrestrial” interaction between Iceland and China,” High North News, April 4, 2016, http://www.highnorthnews.com/solar-terrestrial-interaction-between-iceland-and-china/
  25. Shang Yue and Hu Yongqi, “New plan gives innovation top priority,” chinadaily.com.cn, July 21,2016, http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2016-07/21/content_26173564.htm
  26. “China’s Latest Five-Year Plan to Focus on Innovation,” Asian Scientist Magazine, April 6, 2016, http://www.asianscientist.com/2016/04/topnews/china-five-year-plan-innovation-science-spending/
  27. Ennio Fatuzzo and Carol Fatuzzo, Creating New Superstars: A Guide to Businesses that Soar Above the Sea of Normality (USA: Createspace, September 2016)

Big Data: An Exploding Agent of Change

January 26, 2017 Leave a comment

 

Big Data: An Exploding Agent of Change

by Carol L. Fatuzzo and Ennio Fatuzzo

 

Futuristic abstract background and binary code and the words big dataToday, thanks to the internet, many kinds of data (Variety) are being sent, received, and accumulated at unprecedented rates (Velocity) in unprecedented quantities (Volume). So, how can we manage this rapidly increasing amount of data and benefit from them? How can we discover hidden patterns and reveal unknown correlations?

Storing such massive quantities of data is only the beginning. To be useful we also must be able to access and analyze them rapidly and reliably. Following is an excerpt from our latest book, “Creating New Superstars,1” which addresses this opportunity.

BIG DATA AND BUSINESS ANALYTICS

“Business analytics refers to “the extensive use of data, statistical and quantitative analysis, explanatory and predictive (computer) models, and fact-based management to drive decisions and actions.2 The rapid development and adoption of advanced business analytics technologies is already altering the business landscape.

Big data refers to data sets too large for traditional data processing. These data sets have the potential for “huge new benefits—but also heartaches.3 The explosive emergence and availability of such huge, fast-changing, unstructured data from various old and new sources, mostly external to a business, and attempts to analyze them, has created the “age of information” ― an age where knowledge is power. But in many companies these unwieldy data sets have also created an “analysis bottleneck” that limits their usefulness.

But now it is possible to combine big data with advanced business analytics. Unparalleled and real-time access to vast quantities of data and the ability to rapidly analyze them in meaningful ways are already realities. Business management is being challenged with the rapidly growing technical capability of harnessing the vast potential that is hidden in multiple sources of massive data/information.

Today many companies already are analyzing big data to achieve significant competitive advantages―to improve products and services, cut costs, attract repeat customers, and more. An IBM Global Business Services Executive Report documents several big successes: “Companies like McLeod Russel India Limited completely eliminated systems downtime in the tea trade through more accurate tracking of the harvest, production and marketing of up to 100 million kilos of tea each year. Premier Healthcare Alliance used enhanced data sharing and analytics to improve patient outcomes while reducing spending by $2.85 billion. And Santam improved the customer experience by implementing predictive analytics to reduce fraud.4

Still embryonic though, are advanced analytical methodologies that can be applied to big data to build useful models for predicting and optimizing future outcomes. Such tools would enable leaders to make better decisions and make them faster and with lower risk; and might even help scientists make fundamental discoveries. This is the promise of the emerging field of data science, the marriage between big data and advanced analytics, the former providing the information, the latter supplying the tools that can be applied to that information to develop insight and guide action.5 However, there is one giant caution for business leaders. Big data and analytics, no matter how sophisticated and expertly used, will not replace or necessarily even predict disruptive innovations. Analyzing the past and extrapolating to the future is not likely to accurately predict a future shaped by unparalleled disruptive and exponential change.”

A CAUTION AND A CONCERN

There is no question that the future benefits arising from the combination of big data and advanced analytics will be immense, but not everything is positive. For example, even with advances in analytics technology, including artificial intelligence, keep in mind the caution expressed above:

“Analyzing the past and extrapolating to the future is not likely to accurately predict a future shaped by unparalleled disruptive and exponential change.”

And for those who worry that big data collection may infringe into their privacy: Yes, large companies and organizations already have access to a lot of personal data and are using it. On the positive side, this is already leading to things such as improvements in healthcare outcomes and understanding new market trends for better business management.

But it is an entirely different situation when governments enter the arena. A number of articles have been written about “big data” in the hands of government evolving into “big brother.”  A recent article in the Economist entitled “China invents the digital totalitarian state: The worrying implications of its social-credit project6” illustrates a concerning example.

The article describes a data collection and analysis project being run by the Chinese communist party to develop what they call a “social-credit system.” To summarize, using “big data” technologies, the project’s objective is to develop a system to collect and categorize as “good” or “bad” all available information for each individual citizen. Ultimately, rewards for good behavior (e.g., prizes, better housing) and punishments for bad behavior (e.g., denial of permissions to travel or access to loans and services) would be handed out – all this aimed at improving the allegiance of citizens to the State.

Will China be successful? How far will other governments go towards using big data to become “big brother” watching over each citizen? Certainly valid concerns. However, keep in mind that every breakthrough new technology has the potential for both good and bad. It all depends on the intentions of those who develop and apply the technology.


 

  1. Ennio Fatuzzo and Carol L. Fatuzzo, Creating New Superstars: a Guide to Businesses that Soar above the Sea of Normality (USA: September 2016)
  2. Thomas H. Davenport and Jeanne G. Harris, Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007), 7.
  3. “Data, data everywhere,” The Economist, Feb 25th 2010, http://www.economist.com/node/15557443.
  4. Michael Schroeck, Rebecca Shockley, Dr. Janet Smart, Professor Dolores Romero-Morales, and Professor Peter Tufano, “Analytics: The real-world use of big data,” IBM Global Business Services Executive Report, IBM Institute for Business Value (2012), accessed June 27, 2016, http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/gbs/thoughtleadership/ibv-big-data-at-work.html.
  5. Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett, “Data Science and its Relationship to Big Data and Data-Driven Decision Making,” Big Data, 1, no. 1 (March 2013), 51-59, http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1089/big.2013.1508.
  6. “China invents the digital totalitarian state: The worrying implications of its social-credit project,” The Economist, Dec 17, 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21711902-worrying-implications-its-social-credit-project-china-invents-digital-totalitarian