NBIC Analysis and Debate

Since the publication of the 400+ page NBIC report in 2002, scientists, journalists, analysts and activists have all weighed in with disparate opinions about the purpose, the effects and the advisablity of the convergence of nano-, bio- , info- and cognitive sciences.   

  • NBIC conferences in Hawaii in 2005New York in 2004 and Los Angeles in 2003 have brought together scientists, technologists, ethicists and policy makers to expand the NBIC premise.

  • James Hughes of the World Transumanist Association wrote of the political impact of the NBIC study:
    The NBIC’s initial report stunned even the most optimistic techno-utopians with its predictions
    of rapid human enhancement, life extension and nano-neural interfaces
    in the coming decades. Turns out that when people on the cutting edge
    of the molecular, information and cognitive sciences begin to talk
    about merging their fields and applying them to extending the human
    body and brain, things get very transhumanist very fast—nanobots or no
    nanobots.
  • In a comprehensive analysis, the social activists at the ETC Group call convergence the "Little BANG" and are skeptical:
    A mix of Bits, Atoms, Neurons and Genes (B.A.N.G.) make
    the world come ’round – for the USA!

    In the
    USA, senior science policy makers and industry players are devising a new-style
    ‘Manhattan’ or ‘Apollo’ project to merge strategic technologies at the
    nano-scale (one billionth of a meter)…

Healthcare NBIC Launch: Convergence and the Life Sciences

Healthcare NBIC is a weblog blog edited by Jack Powers, director of the the International Informatics Institute (IN3.ORG), originally in support of
the Health IC Summit conference on disruptive innovations in
healthcare as well as our ongoing study of medicine, technology and society. We use this blog to highlight important developments, hot
technologies, interesting business models and intriguing people who are
applying new science and emerging technology to transform medicine in
the U.S. and around the world. Staring in February 2006, we also post videos on the topic. All on-line material is published under a Creative Comons Share-Alike 2.5 license, and you can subscribe to our RSS and Atom feeds and our podcasts.

"NBIC" comes from a U.S. National Science Foundation study Converging
Technologies for Improving Human Performance: Nanotechnology,
Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science
. (Download the NSF report in PDF format.)
The report describes a grand unification of scientific knowledge
from the smallest scale of atoms and molecules up through cells and
tissue to  machines and computers all the way up to the most complex device of
all, the human brain.

The study report outlines some important outcomes of convergence. For our purposes here, the key theme is Improving human health and physical capabilities:

Six priority areas have been identified: nano-bio processors for research and development of treatments, including those resulting from bioinformatics, genomics and proteomics; nanotechnology-based implants and regenerative biosystems as replacements for human organs or for monitoring of physiological well-being; nanoscale machines and comparable unobtrusive tools for medical intervention; multi-modality platforms for increasing sensorial capabilities, particularly for visual and hearing impaired people; brain-to-brain and brain-to-machine interfaces; and virtual environments for training, design, and forms of work unlimited by distance or the physical scale on which it is performed.

NBIC convergence requires that researchers, practitioners, inventors, executives and the general public think outside of the limitations of their own narrow specialties and concerns: nanotech, bioscience, hospitalists, investors, programmers, managers, ethicists and policy makers must all contribute to the discussion. It’s our hope that Healthcare NBIC can be a forum for this most important analysis of the future of human health and human performance.