What if: your mind can be read?

This blog is part of a series based on the ‘What If?’ sessions taking place at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2015. Ariel Garten, Co-Founder and CEO of Interaxon Inc, addresses the question – what if technologies for reading thoughts, memories and cognitive ability become commonplace?

Watch live coverage of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions session on What if: your mind can be read on the video player below or follow this link on Wednesday, 9 September from 10:30-11:30 CST (GMT+7, EST+12).


The sensor revolution is changing the way we interact with our habitats, with each other and with ourselves. Using technology to monitor internal sensations and external activities boosts our ability to manage our own health and development in new and exciting ways. But while people have tracked their exercise and sleep for some time, our own brains have until recently remained hidden from us.

That’s why my Toronto-based company set out to develop brain-computer-interface (BCI) tools in the early 2000s: to make our own brains accessible to us. While exploring the capabilities of thought-controlled computing in the lab of Dr Steve Mann, we made things like thought-controlled furniture and large public exhibits, in which participants controlled environments with their own brainwaves. We soon realized, though, that truly meaningful applications of this technology lie in its ability to help individuals understand and improve their own brains.

Today, we are expanding brain health and neuroscience through the creation of Muse, a brain-sensing headband. This seven-sensor, wearable electro-encephalograph (EEG) uses a smartphone or tablet to capture brain data and make it meaningful in real time. As one of the most affordable and accessible EEG technologies on the market, Muse has found roles in applications from personal wellness to clinical trials, and it has enabled brain research on a scale never before achieved.

Making large-scale neuroscience a reality

Over the last century, EEG research was traditionally conducted in laboratory settings, with one person at a time. A brain research project might involve only 30 participants and take months to complete. Pervasive neurotechnology like Muse opens the door to completely new ways of understanding the brain: hundreds of individuals can participate in brain experiments in a single day; thousands over the course of a week. Human brain research can move out of the laboratory and into natural, social and urban spaces. Organizations will soon be able to deploy brain research projects as a service, attuned to their health and productivity needs. Custom brain-based interventions will be designed to optimize individual and organizational performance, and bring to bear the state of the art in neuroscience on the human challenges faced by organizations of all sizes.

Meditation made easy

Almost no practice has as much power to reduce stress, increase resilience and improve wellness as much as regular meditation practice. But even three minutes per day of meditation, while beneficial, can be challenging for beginners. Real-time brain feedback and cloud-based tracking of brain focus via your smartphone or tablet makes meditation accessible to a wider variety of people than ever before, by removing major barriers to engagement.

Already, pervasive neurotechnology is generating previously inaccessible insights and solutions to a range of applications. As we move past the dawn of wearable brain sensing and toward widespread adoption, expect a revolution in personal brain health.

Leveraging technology can help in the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders and addressing chronic non-communicable diseases in cases where we do not have the tools available to treat them. These technologies could lead to rapid diagnosis and change the trajectory of brain and mind development.

We’re already sharing lots of information about our behaviour online for marketing purposes, but not for health purposes. One of the best bio-markers of the mental state of someone on the verge of neuropsychosis is their online search history (or that of their parents). This, along with speech detection, is an effective precursor to in-person interview.

In neuroscience, the concern is not what we can see, but who has access to this information about ourselves. We can access brain waves in ways we couldn’t before, and this will change the relationship we have with our doctors and other health providers.

Author: Ariel Garten is the Co-Founder and CEO of Interaxon Inc, makers of Muse: the brain sensing headband

Image: Daniel Goehring of the AutoNOMOS research team of the Artificial Intelligence Group at the Freie Universitaet (Free University) demonstrates a hands-free driving of the research car named ‘MadeInGermany’ during a test in Berlin, February 28, 2011. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

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