Will “Brain Wearables” Make Us More Or Less Human?

By: Hana Hiratsuka

We’ve all had moments when we catch ourselves questioning our relationship with technology—whether spurred by a narrative in a sci-fi movie or reminiscing about “the days before mobile phones.”

Brace yourself; a new type of technology may take us far beyond what even now can feel like the not-so-gentle embrace of the digital world. Technology that taps into our gray matter—for example, “brain wearables”—will force us to consider how far we’re willing to push our relationship with technology and what the payoffs might be.

The Major Players in Brain Wearables

Brain wearable infographic

A combination of technology, scientific insight, and market interest has laid the foundation for brain wearables. One company in the commercial brain wearable market is Emotiv. Right now, you can purchase a $300 EEG (electroencephalogram) headset and download the MyEmotiv application to gather cognitive and emotional data on your very own brainwaves.

Data from an EEG can help us train our brains to cope with different scenarios.

The BRAIN Initiative, founded by the US government, and the European Commission’s Human Brain Project are two long-term, large-scale projects that are mapping the entire human brain and discovering insights about our behavior.

The private sector is also investing in brain technologies; Elon Musk has started Neuralink, a company interested in adding an AI layer to the human brain.

Who Would Use Brain Wearables, and Why?

brain wearables infographic

Current brain wearables help people with low mobility or other limited abilities to interface out-of-body with connected objects and systems, greatly increasing their autonomy and quality of life. As we catapult into the future, accessibility will remain top of mind for thoughtful designers and tech companies.

Sports scientists are exploring how the combination of mind and body can alter training routines and enhance athletic performance. As technology merges with insights from these research initiatives, we should see applications geared toward security, education, disease prevention, mental health, and the smart environment (Internet of Things).

What Does It Mean to Be Human?

brain wearables infographic

As future technologies become present technologies, we can tap into data we never had access to and uncover patterns about what it means to be human.

If it is human to use tools, when does using this technology as a tool go too far? Advances will require designers to keep the human user at the center of all decisions. Designers in the tech industry must take even more responsibility to carefully weigh all the impacts and outcomes of products and applications.

Fundamentally, design is problem-solving to make a positive impact. We must weigh the benefits against potential sacrifices. As Bryan Johnson explained at South by Southwest (SXSW), we must “choose the right stories to tell to serve as blueprints for what we create.”

The future is still unfathomable, yet we will continue to wade into these uncharted waters where design, technology, and humans merge. We must lay down ethical foundations within corporations and communities to develop and spread the stories of future technology that we want to see.