“Over the next few weeks, a company called Kernel will begin sending dozens of customers across the U.S. a $50,000 helmet that can, crudely speaking, read their mind,” Ashlee Vance writes at Bloomberg Businessweek. The company’s founder, Bryan Johnson, spent more than five years and $55 million of his own fortune — Johnson started the electronic payment system Braintree and bought Venmo before selling both to Ebay for $800 million — to develop his helmets.
Johnson hopes they will be inexpensive enough by 2030 that regular people can buy them, like smartwatches and other wearable tech, but the first batch will go to research institutions like Harvard Medical School, the University of Texas, and Cybin Inc, a startup developing mental health treatments based on psychedelics. Christof Koch, the chief scientist at Seattle’s Allen Institute for Brain Science calls Kernel’s helmets “revolutionary,” Vance writes, and Johnson plans to prove him right.
Kernel has created two helmets, the Flux and the Flow, that use an array of sensors and lasers to study a brain’s electromagnetic activity and blood oxygenation levels, respectively. The idea was to shrink the giant brain-scanning devices in hospitals down to wearable size, and researchers are excited to measure the brain’s activity as subjects move about and perform tasks. They hope to study brain aging, Alzheimer’s, concussions, strokes, “and the mechanics behind previously metaphysical experiences such as meditation and psychedelic trips,” Vance writes. Johnson is thinking even bigger.
“To make progress on all the fronts that we need to as a society, we have to bring the brain online,” Johnson says. “We are the first generation in the history of Homo sapiens who could look out over our lifetimes and imagine evolving into an entirely novel form of conscious existence,” he adds. “The things I am doing can create a bridge for humans to use where our technology will become part of our self.” Read more about the Kernel helmets and their unusual progenitor at Bloomberg Businessweek.