Humans, like computers, are both hardware and software. Human hardware consists of cells, bones, blood, all the physical stuff that comprises our bodies and their many systems. Human software is psychology, mood – the world of our mind and emotions, as opposed to simply our brains. In terms of technology, humans-as-hardware solutions include advances in surgery, implants and recombinant genetics; those that approach the human as software include behavior change, psychiatry and some aspects of neurology.
As investors, we plan to focus on humans as software. We believe, in terms of neuroscience, that the “hardware” changes in brain cells, nerve cells and other systems will have enormous value. But we feel that value will be extremely expensive to achieve and take a long time, possibly decades. And, so, while we will be open to learning about how to physically alter the brain, we see greater near-term investment opportunity in the transformation of the mind.
In particular, we see a nexus between the brain, the gut and the immune system that impacts human behavior deeply. For 2018, in neurosciences, we will focus on:
- Closed loop systems. Systems that tie sensors, software and behavior in a cyclical approach to improve some aspect of mental health or perception.
- Biosensors/Brain-Machine Interfaces (BMI). Sensing and influencing the brain from inside the body, especially from the biome, which science is showing has a fundamental impact on our mental state.
- Behavior change systems. Systems using AI, social and other techniques to actually cause people to reduce behaviors that are bad for them or increase behaviors with positive effects.
- Neurotechnologies unchained by new FDA rules and other regulatory changes. The FDA has new fast-track programs for technology that has great potential to help and little potential to harm. These solutions, generally, have to be non-invasive, which favors the software technology approach in neuroscience.
- Technologies that deliver traditional psychology approaches in new ways. Can your shrink be an AI?
- VR/AR for mental therapy. VR can increase mindfulness. AR can augment videos or images with elements that can shift moods. We see significant potential for immersive experiences to get inside our heads for meditation, analysis and dealing with issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.
- AI/machine learning that improves neurological capabilities. Getting the information inside our heads out for access to the real world (and vice versa) requires not only deep data gathering but also supple and swift interpretation of those massive data sets. This demands AI capabilities beyond those common today. As these emerge, they will power new solutions.
- Electroceuticals. These are “drugs” that interact with the body electrically, rather than via biology. Think of a heart pacemaker in a pill. Electroceuticals will be as close as we come to the hardware side of neuro-science. We think this area is poised to explode.
- Nootropics. These include drugs, supplements, and other substances that improve cognitive function, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals. Our focus is purely on nootropics whose effects are backed by strong science. Many of the early products in this area, by contrast, derive from distinctly dubious claims.
This is a broad swath of science to track. We expect to evaluate many new companies in this area, and invest in very few. But those few could actually transform the way we perceive and interact with the world.