How Commercial "Brain Hacking" Devices Push the Limits of Medical Science

Strategy and Marketing Expert
Over a year ago

Human wellbeing exists between two planes of physical and mental health. While our physical health has gone digital — through apps and devices like Fitbit that quantify health metrics — human mental health has remained more analogue. To address our mental health, we still prefer the professional advice of doctors or ancient meditative practices like yoga.

The inability of technology to penetrate our state of consciousness, however, is quickly drawing to a close. Willow Group, a company that aims to leverage technology to bring people peace of mind, is led by CEO Nichol Bradford. A number of new medical devices are pushing into a space that some medical professionals, says Bradford, are uncomfortable with.

Nonetheless, a number of studies indicate that computer-brain interface devices may help people be more alert, learn faster, and understand their own emotions more accurately. Bradford refers to one instance in which the military's experimental research wing, DARPA, found that transcranial direct current stimulation improved the rate at which soldiers were able to learn certain skills.

And where the government is experimenting, a number of private companies have emerged around similar technologies. Muse, a "brain sensing" headband, asks users to wear it while meditating. The device gives realtime feedback about brain activity so people become more aware of their own awareness, and therefore more able to improve their ability to meditate.

Another device is the Halo headset from Halo Neuroscience, which claims to be the computer-brain interface of elite athletes. The company claims it can prime the brain for training through a series of electric pulses, resulting in more effective workouts. Among Halo's customers is the US Ski Team, according to the company's website.

Technology tends to progress faster than our ability to measure its results, at least according to medical science which relies on longterm studies. And the allure of technological progress often outpaces our caution regarding its health consequences — recall questions of whether cellphone signals might potentially harm the brain. Still, new technologies have transformed our lives dramatically in the last 50 years, and the rate of progress is speeding up rather than slowing down.

Nichol Bradford is the author of The Sisterhood.