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Artificial Intelligence

Navigating the Age of AI: The Role of a New Brain Industry

We need a mission to increase brain capital.

Key points

  • Boosting human intellect and creativity can ensure artificial intelligence is used to benefit humanity.
  • A “brain capital mission” can accelerate research to unlock the mysteries and potential of the human brain.

By Harris A. Eyre, M.D., Ph.D.; Ian H. Robertson, Ph.D.; Ryan Abbott, M.D., JD, Ph.D.; and Robert M. Bilder, Ph.D.

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." This famous remark from President John F. Kennedy, in his 1962 address at Rice University in Houston, concerned not just the nation's efforts in space exploration, but also its competition with the Soviet Union and fight for democracy to prevail over tyranny.

This fight continues today, but the battlefield has moved in significant part from space-based technologies to artificial intelligence (AI). If the U.S. falls behind, the consequences will be dire.

The social benefits of AI are tremendous. But so are its risks and destructive potential, such as its capacity to spread political disinformation.

To harness the benefits of AI and minimize its risks, we outlined an aggressive brain capital industrial strategy in a new research paper from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. A mission-oriented approach is an important aspect of our strategy for advancing America’s brain capital.

The mission? We must first identify the brain assets that are most difficult for machines to replicate and then invest in them strategically. This will be essential not only for human progress, but potentially for the survival of our species. By focusing on uniquely human capacities, we can better determine how to enhance AI with evermore human abilities—including using AI to help determine what its technology lacks and how humans can most effectively use their brain resources for the greater good (for example, for achieving lasting peace and for enabling the long-term survival of our species in the face of global threats).

The vision? We aim to establish a public-sector strategy that focuses on building economic resilience by cultivating communities’ brain health and brain skills. Healthier, more social, and more nimble brains, in turn, can foster a growing and innovative economy.

To achieve this mission, we propose a number of important actions. The first is developing and investing in brain capital technologies—neuroscience-inspired technologies that address the confluence of mental health and substance use, neurology, neuroscience, adolescence, education, the future of work, creativity, innovation, and brain performance. Accelerating the development of these technologies and leveraging AI is an important priority, as it will allow us to detect, prevent, diagnose, and treat brain and mental health conditions. Understanding the “brain engine”—as unique as our fingerprints—also grants us the ability to learn and think creatively, innovatively, entrepreneurially, and socially.

Next, it is crucial to create home and work environments that are conducive to brain health, utilize novel financial instruments to fund new research and technologies, and ensure that the workforce is healthy and has the necessary tools to creatively tackle new problems.

Lastly, developing and funding “sub-missions” across sectors and industries, supporting policies that are intertwined with brain capital, and coordinating across government agencies will be critical for the mission to succeed.

Although establishing a next-generation brain tech industry with the same passion as NASA’s 1969 “Moon Shot” mission may seem unachievable in our lifetime, it can be done. Indeed, it must be done. Through public-private partnerships, a “brain capital mission” can accelerate research to unlock the mysteries and potential of the human brain—from its neuroplasticity (the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli) to its amazing and energy-efficient processing power and incredible ability to create art.

Massive investments in brain research combined with world-class science and American entrepreneurship across all industries promise practical translations for humanity’s benefit. By pursuing this mission, we can boost both human intelligence and creative capacity to ensure we harness AI for the good of our species.


About the coauthors:

Ian H. Robertson, Ph.D., is co-director of the Global Brain Health Institute and co-leader of The BrainHealth Project.

Ryan Abbott, M.D., J.D., Ph.D., is a professor of law and health sciences at the University of Surrey School of Law, an adjunct assistant professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California Los Angeles, a partner at Brown, Neri, Smith & Khan, and a mediator and arbitrator at JAMS, Inc.

Robert M. Bilder, Ph.D., is Michael E. Tennenbaum Distinguished Professor of Creativity Research; Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior at UCLA; Chair, Disruptive Technology Initiative of the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology.

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