Picture a day where you flip through your memories like you would Facebook or Instagram, or you get a chip sewn into your brain to help you learn languages twice as fast and communicate your thoughts in an instant to millions of people. Such are the promises of so-called brain hacking technologies, and for the past couple of years, everyone from Elon Musk to DARPA scientists has been studying our noggins to get us there.
How close are we and how real is any of this? The human brain is a complex beast, and it’s still early days, but we could be closer to becoming Neo in The Matrix than we think — and some in Silicon Valley are starting to believe this is the next phase of human evolution. Here are 11 companies working on tech that could one day make you faster, smarter, stronger and even calmer at the push of a button.
Our modern-day Tony Stark has created yet another startup to change the world — this time with a computer chip he’d like to insert into your brain.
Nueralink, as the (pretty stark) website
implies, is “developing ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.”
In other words, it’s meant to connect the human race in a way that could potentially allow us to communicate with millions (billions?) of people instantly just by sending our thoughts (!!!).
(Photo by Lambert/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
DARPA’s RAM sensor
More than 270,000 military service members have had to combat traumatic brain injuries since 2000, according to DARPA
, and scientists within the organization are working on implantable devices that could deliver targeted neural stimulation to help restore memory loss, including complex memories.
(Image courtesy of Stacey Rupolo/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
Those who’ve seen Black Mirror may find neuroscience startup Kernal
eerily familiar. The startup is developing a prosthetic memory device that can help us recall almost anything at will and make it available commercially. It was started by OS Fund’s Bryan Johnson, who put up $100 million of his own money to get it off the ground. While the initial focus is on medical applications, Johnson intends to broaden the scope of Kernel to increase our intelligence and give those with the implant an edge over those without, melding (wo)man and machine and ultimately ushering in the next phase of human evolution.
This Boston-based startup focuses on building a brain-controlled software platform
for hardware or software makers to control AR and VR with your thoughts. So, instead of using an Oculus Touch controller or voice commands, your thoughts could steer the future of user interaction on any number of devices. This has applications beyond the virtual world, such as turning your oven to the right temperature with your brain waves or thinking your lights on or off. Anyone who has watched Mr. Robot might be familiar with that last trick.
headband may not make you into a living supercomputer, but it does aim to help you achieve a substance-free chill session. For $300 Muse will train your brain to help you reduce stress and anxiety in minutes using a series of brain wave signals.
Using a guided game, Muse uses the signal feedback to show you how calm or active your mind becomes over time. It then inputs that information into a program on your tablet or smartphone so you can keep track of how you’ve improved over time.
joins quite a few tech companies trying to help you chill out from your stressful life. Its mood-altering headset helps you find a state of calm or boost energy via controls on your smartphone. Just attach the triangular module to your forehead and neck using a disposable adhesive strip and dial the intensity of the electrical current to the calm or energy setting — no brain-boosting chemicals necessary.
Star Wars first planted the idea over 35 years ago that we could move objects with our minds. Emotiv
allows us to do just that. The startup makes a neuro-headset that lets the user send concentrated thoughts to connected devices. It works by scanning your brain for signals using the Emotiv EEG device and then by thinking “move” to do things like making a toy car whiz by or a toy helicopter fly up and to the right. It has numerous applications, especially for those with disabilities.
put proprietary neuro priming technology into a headset to help elite athletes improve brain function, safety and performance. Halo says its headset improves the body’s function by stimulating the brain’s motor cortex through a series of light pulses. There might be something to that claim. Olympic athletes, including sprinters Mike Rodgers and Hafsatu Kamara, hurdlers Michael Tinsley and Mikel Thomas, and pentathlete Samantha Achterberg have used the tech to improve their abilities.
Plenty of universities and research facilities are working on trippy mind-melding technology as well, including this brain-controlled drone from the University of Florida
. The technology takes an abstract thought from your mind and uses it to move the drone up, down and back and forth via an EEG reading on a headset, similar to the way Emotiv helps you move objects with your mind. It seems like good timing for the university to get the word out about what it’s working on — the U.S. Defense Department, the same organization using drones to kill suspected terrorists from far away, has been on the lookout for new brain-controlled applications.
uses a technique to help those with headache disorders through neuro-stimulation of something called the sphenopalatine ganglion, which is a collection of nerve cells containing both autonomic nerves and sensory nerves and sends information to glands of the nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, palate and upper pharynx believed to have a connection to cluster and migraine headaches. BrainsGate believes this technology also has the potential for treating central nervous system disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and stroke. The company is currently focusing on improving the outcome of patients suffering from ischemic stroke
in a 24-hour window after onset of symptoms.
What brain hacking discussion would be complete without talking about the pills and potions some people swear can boost your I.Q. There are plenty of Silicon Valley startups hawking the internet brain pills known as nootropics. The Hollywood movie and subsequent television series “Limitless” took the idea to new extremes, suggesting whatever’s in them might give us superhuman memory and cognitive powers — even famed geneticist George Church has written
on the subject.
The FDA seems okay for now with their growing
proliferation in the U.S. (at least for the stuff containing Piracetam and 5-HTP; you’ll need a prescription for Modafinil), but it’s still not clear
if the claims actually hold up for many of these “magic pills.”