Replace your Coffee with Brain Stimulation To Enhance Focus and Increase Productivity
Neuro-technology expert who brings research in neuroscience to the fields of Marketing and Ergonomic
In this interview with Balder Onarheim, co-founder and CEO of PlatoScience we explore the advances in neurostimulation (Transcranial Electrical Stimulation, TES) and how it can be used to enhance focus and creativity.
Can you give a quick background about you and how you got to this technology?
So my first education was actually as an officer in the Norwegian army, and that motivated me to continue with a masters degree in product design — specializing in medical equipment engineering. After working with engineering I went on to do a PhD studying cognitive creativity, and as part of this I met my co-founder Morten Friis-Olicarius who was finishing his PhD in neurobiology. Together we started on a journey to find effective ways of enhancing human cognition, and ended focusing solely on trans-cranial electrical stimulation (TES) as we found this the most promising technology.
In your opinion what is the field of Brain Computer Interfaces about? And how does tDCS fit?
As I see Brain Computer Interface (BCI) it is the pursuit of creating a direct interface between the human brain and computers, to bypass the slowness and the biases in current human interaction with computers.
I guess the Matrix is the ultimate example, where you connect your brain directly to a computer and has a solid two way link where your brain can control the computer, and the computer can feed information directly to the brain. In the near future, we should be able to connect the magical capacity of our brain with the growing capabilities of AI and machine learning. Currently, the brain and the digital world have very different capabilities, the aim of BCI is essentially bringing the two together. tDCS, and other brain stimulation technologies, represent a first small step towards BCI’s, as it can enable a computer (in our case a smartphone) to have a direct influence on the brain.
What are some challenges you face with the emerging technology similar to tDCS? And how yours is different?
The main challenge as I see it is the complexity of performing large scale studies of neurostimulation technologies, as current solutions require very expensive and time consuming lab studies.
, every product owner can choose to participate in improving our understanding of what tDCS can, and cannot, do — and with a sufficient volume of participants we can suddenly perform tDCS studies that were unimaginable just a year ago. Other challenges include the lack of standards for tDCS studies, incomparable reporting of results, lack of quantitative data collection from the growing DIY community, and lack of device regulation. EU will finally start regulating neurostimulation devices in 2020, and we hope the FDA will follow with equal regulations shortly thereafter, to ensure a sufficient quality of the products provided to consumers.
Now that this technology is practically in the hands of the public? How do you envision its implementation in our daily lives?
The most important thing for Morten and I have been to democratize the technology, to get it out of the labs and the ‘super expert’ context and give it to anyone who are interested in improved cognitive performance. For our users, this means that they suddenly have direct access to a tool that can help them in taking a little more control of their brains, especially on the days where our brain is not performing at the standards we know it’s capable of. Right now, our products are only for enhancing natural cognitive abilities, but we’re working towards products designed to also improve abnormal cognitive behaviour — such as ADD, anxiety, and depression.
What problem will your new product solve in comparison to the previous one?
PlatoWork is the result of years of development, and a series of different stages of product development. Based on feedback from testers, lab studies, and user studies, PlatoWork is the first version of our product which is ready for a mass market, and the functionality is the result of learning from all the previous versions we’ve created.
What features and benefits will your product bring to the consumers?
PlatoWork is the first ‘plug and play’ solution for consumers to utilize tDCS to improve cognitive performance. The current consumer products for cognitive tDCS are all based on two loose electrodes, which the user have to place herself, based on the desired effects. With PlatoWork
, the electrode positions and the type and direction of currents are predefined, so the user will not need to study tDCS and academic research to be able to use the product correctly.
How do you explain your product to the public?
The brain works based on a network of natural electrical currents, which initiates the neural activity in our brain. tDCS adds a tiny bit of extra electric current, which can either improve or constraint the condition for the natural current to flow. This way, tDCS can make it harder, or easier for certain parts of the brain to activate — dependent on which type of task you are working with this can help optimizing the brain for the task at hand.
Where do you see the product in few years from now?
The big dream and vision for the future of PlatoScience is to provide products — physical and digital — for brain computer interaction.
We believe that the next step for humankind is to create direct links between our brain and the growing power of computers, and neurostimulation represents the first step in creating this link. In a not too far future we aim to have a non-invasive product that can monitor the brain’s activity, and based on machine learning detect any unwanted activity and correct this using neurostimulation — all tailored at an individual level.
Is the market large enough? Are there competitors?
For now the market for neurostimulation is limited and definitely a niche market, but we believe that this is just the beginning — that in a few years time neurostimulation will be as common as noise cancelling headphones, and in the next wave thereafter as common as smart phones. The brain is the most important tool we have, so I would dare to claim that there are very few people who would not want a product that can help them to get the most out of their brain. For now we have no direct competitors, but we see new startups appearing almost weekly so it’s just a matter of time before there will be a number of products to choose from. But for me the essence to successful neurostimulation lies in the data available for analysis, so there we’ll have a head start when other products start reaching the market.
Would the product influence or be influenced by others markets and why?
We’re already in an indirect competition with nootropics/smart drugs, and the second we have a medical product we’ll also be in a direct competition with pharmaceuticals. But in the latter market it is a clear benefit in combining chemical treatments with neurostimulation, so this might be more of a collaboration than a competition.
Will you give us a closing remark and areas of improvements?
Our key value is transparency, so we always stress that tDCS and other forms of neurostimulation is not a ‘magic pill’ or a quick fix. Cognitive improvement takes time and effort, and the only thing we can do is to support this process.
What are you reading right now?
- Right now I’m reading Stealing Fire (Steven Kotler), In Patagonia (Bruce Chatwin) and Leonardo da Vinci (Walter Isaacson).
- Of relevant recommendations for the topic here would be Kotler, Homo Deus (Yuval Noah Harari), and maybe Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
- If you’re new to neuroscience I’ll always recommend to start with reading this absolutely brilliant introduction to the brain, and brain computer interfaces, by Tim Urban (warning: long read) https://waitbutwhy.com/2017/04/neuralink.html
- For a great video of the science of tDCS and PlatoWork check out the TEDx talk by my co-founder Morten — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZCcVk8-RVQ
- for some more soft science chat I have a TEDx on ‘3 tools to become more creative — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-YScywp6AU
None of the links is an affiliate link, and all the information provided in this article is for general information and review purposes only and is the expressed opinion of , Balder Onarheim and not the publication.
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