Strolling through the exhibits at BrainTech 2015 in Tel Aviv last week, one felt as if the future had already arrived – and in a good way
Although no computer has yet proven as supple and flexible as the human mind, economist Tyler Cowan has predicted that the future belongs to mind-computer melds, or teams of humans and artificial intelligence that work in conjunction, leading to better results than a computer or human alone. Strolling through the exhibits at BrainTech 2015 in Tel Aviv last week, one felt as if this future had already arrived. Here are five startups that point to ways computer intelligence can heal and enhance the human brain.
ADHD can be described as the inability to focus on what you need to when you need to without the involuntary intrusion of other thoughts. Many sufferers have paid the price in academic and career success.
Aziz Kaddan, one of the co-founders of Myndlift, experienced this first hand when he stepped out of an interview with Google feeling he hadn’t been focused enough. While he didn’t get the job, he did eventually co-found Myndlift, an app (which will soon become available on Android and iOS) that uses a wearable EEG to help ADHD sufferers improve their concentration through neurofeedback, an alternative non-drug treatment for ADHD that has received mixed reviews. Some neuroscientists are hailing neurofeedback as a miracle cure, while others say it is not much better than a placebo.
Aziz Kaddan and Anas Abu Mukh are 21-year-old prodigies who began their degrees in computer science at Haifa University when they were only 16. They hail from the village of Baqa al-Gharbiya near Hadera. Kaddan’s father is a neurologist and two of his brothers have been diagnosed with ADHD.
Neurofeedback consists of a game the patient plays while wearing a brain wave monitor. For instance, the pieces of a puzzle can come together the more you concentrate, or the screen can become brighter. In this way, you can learn what the subjective feeling of concentration is like and train your brain to get into that state more often.
At present, neurofeedback for ADHD is only available in clinics, and a typical 12-session course of treatment can cost thousands of dollars. With this in mind, Myndlift’s solution is cheaper: While the brain monitor headset will set you back a few hundred dollars, Myndlift’s app is free, with a premium version costing $10 a month.
Myndlift is about to launch its beta version, which you can sign up for on their website. The headphones are a bit pricey, but you’ll be able to use them for other BrainTech apps as well.
Was it Sigmund Freud or some earlier sage or philosopher who pointed out that we don’t always want what we say we want or even think we want? Humans have an enormous capacity for self-deception.
NeuroApplied is a company that uses brain science to try to measure peoples’ and consumers’ real preferences. They conduct focus groups for companies or political parties that measure how people’s brains respond while watching a political ad or some other marketing video. The company measures the conscious and subconscious thoughts of customers using cognitive games. The company was founded by Dr. Elhanan Meirovithz, a neurophysiologist whose expertise is unconscious visual and emotional processing, and Dr. Inna Schneiderman, a neuroscientist who specializes in the interrelationships between cognition and emotions.
At BrainTech 2015, the company was asking for volunteers to watch ten minutes of political campaign commercials. The results could be troubling: Do you profess to be liberal while secretly harboring a penchant for right-wing candidates, or vice versa? Could that explain why polls are so often different from real election results, as happened with yesterday’s elections in Israel?
One of the most exciting tech trends in recent years is the Quantified Self Movement, which lets you track almost every aspect of your personal physiology (weight, heart rate, insulin levels, sleep, etc.), resulting in dramatic health and lifestyle improvements. But applying the Quantified Self to mental health is tricky: How do you measure improvements or declines in mental health? What if the patient doesn’t want to be measured?
Lifegraph is an app (which will launch soon) that will allow doctors to monitor the smartphones of patients suffering from mental illness. In theory, this would allow some patients to lead a more independent life outside the confines of a 24-hour care institution.
For instance, take someone with bipolar disorder. A person who makes five calls a day in general might suddenly make 20 and send flurries of text messages. They might sleep less and visit more places—all things that can be tracked with a smartphone. This would be the first tip-off that they are entering a manic phase and a psychiatrist could respond accordingly.
One foreseeable problem with this app, which is currently undergoing clinical studies in Israel, is that someone with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia could be inclined to uninstall it from their phone. Both disorders are characterized by patients who often fail to take their meds or think there is actually nothing wrong with them. But for the patients who are cooperative, Lifegraph sounds like a brilliant, low-cost and life-enhancing aid.
Brain-computer interface is the most exciting, science-fiction-like frontier of brain technology. The idea is that specific patterns of neurons firing can be translated into thoughts by a computer.
OpenBCI is an open source brain scanner that you can 3D print at home. It consists of three parts—sensors and a mini computer that connects to an EEG device that you can strap on to your head. The electrode hat is 3D printable, while the mini-computer is manufactured by the company and used to cover their costs.
The idea is that anyone can experiment with brainwaves and create apps – games, personal tracking tools and neurofeedback systems – at a fraction of the cost of doing it in a laboratory.
You can download the software for the headset from GitHub, buy the hardware from OpenBCI and 3D print the headset.
Survivors of stroke and brain injury will often leave the hospital with nothing more than a recommendation to “keep their brain active.” NeuroTrax assesses the memory loss and cognitive impairment of brain patients, then creates a program of games at their level to help with rehabilitation once they leave the hospital.
The software is desgined for use in conjunction with an occupational therapist and physician.