Remember Google Glass? Or perhaps you recall more its failed attempt to get us to embrace wearing technology on our heads. Now, two companies, PlatoScience and OpenBCI, have launched products to spark and map brain activity according to the task at hand. And I mean literally 'spark': their products are based on existing EEG (electroencephalogram) technology and tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation) technology to catalyze and map the brain's electrical activity. The technology that Plato Science and OpenBCI use has been explored for some time now in the B2B medical industry for ailments and diseases such as depression, anxiety, ALS and early stage dementia. Plato Science and OpenBCI want to take the technology out of the lab and to the people.
The question that Balder Onarheim, co-founder of PlatoScience, has been interested in since 2009 is "How might we bring brain science technology, to everyone, and make it a B2C- not just a B2B- option?" He wants to get what has been $60,000 lab equipment in the hands of regular folks at a $450 price point. PlatoScience, sells a wearable headset, PlatoWork that boosts cognitive balancing to improve memory, focus and creativity. As Onarheim explains, "We tend to center our cognitive capacity in the frontal region- for memory tasks. When we do that, we limit the activity in the default network regions- where we have unconscious and subconscious processing. When you take a break to shower, run or cook a meal- you release tension in the front and get more activity in the default network, in the back of your brain."
Our brains are always trying to work more efficiently by balancing regions and conserving energy. When doing hard and tedious tasks such as completing taxes, our brains sometimes experience interference. There is too much going on in the default region. By using PlatoWork, you can limit that interference and Plato literally becomes the voice in the back of your head. The PlatoWork headset sparks this release via micro-electronic stimulation to transfer more activity from the frontal lobe- where we prioritize what task to do- to the default region and thus prompt cognitive balancing.
OpenBCI ("brain computer interface") was co-founded in 2013 by Conor Russomano. Its wearable headset is essentially a data collection device wired to serve as a telescope into the brain in order to "harness the electrical signals of the brain and body to further understand and expand who we are." In many ways it is complementary to the PlatoWork headset, because while PlatoWork sparks cognitive balancing, Open BCI, maps what is happening in the brain. Thus, the 2 products together form a closed feedback loop, and produce biometric data. As with PlatoScience, Russomano's goal is to expand the reach of EEG technology and bring it to the people to help with anxiety, depression and even early onset of dementia. He likes it because it is non-invasive and interfaces with computers well. His typical customers are makers and tinkerers. OpenBCI has evolved to having a platform with a community of customers who have the equipment to work with it. They've sold OpenBCI technology to 80 countries and shipped 20,000 products.
At the end of the day, both these technologies lead to mind expanding expression and creativity. Russomano explained to me that "the brain is an organ; while the mind is full of sentience, the root of emotion and connection." The mind is the ultimate hybrid between what we know and what we feel. In many ways, the mind is as vast as the ocean, and we have yet to fully understand it or optimize it for good.
Optimizing the mind will be increasingly important in the future of work and the 4th industrial revolution. That's because in a world with ubiquitous technology it wil be harder to "turn off". So these technologies will provide alternative measures to do just that, in the event that you are not naturally good at meditation. Additionally, multi-tasking is not physiologically possible. When we try to do more than one thing at a time, our brains just switch attention between the two, and we ultimately don't do either well.
Some of the key takeaways of the PlatoScience and OpenBCI technology are:
- PlatoWork is one tangible way to acknowledge that most of the time our brains aren't doing what we need them to do. These technologies serve as a gentle nudge to stop procrastinating and get your task done, by being in the right state of mind.
- The only way we can listen to our brain is to pay attention to our behavior. OpenBCI can give that data directly to us and prompt us to observe our behaviors and listen to our brain.
- Such electronic modulation could conceivably be a replacement for chemicals and drugs used to deal with things like depression. Russomano pointed out the cultural context of adoption, "Europe is more open to electronic modulation research. The USA is resistant due to fear of electrocution or unknown effects, yet we are willing to put drugs into our bodies." As a general rule, Americans have been laggards in adopting technology that interacts with the human body. We are more likely to ingest chemicals in the form of pills despite their warnings about seizures and death, sooner than we will explore EEG technology that prompts brain neuro-synapses.