Ariel Garten: Know thyself, with a brain scanner


The maxim, “Know thyself”
has been around since the ancient Greeks. Some attribute this golden world
knowledge to Plato, others to Pythagoras. But the truth is it doesn’t really matter
which sage said it first, because it’s still
sage advice, even today. “Know thyself.” It’s pithy almost to the point
of being meaningless, but it rings familiar
and true, doesn’t it? “Know thyself.” I understand this timeless dictum
as a statement about the problems, or more exactly, the confusions,
of consciousness. I’ve always been fascinated
with knowing the self. This fascination led me
to submerge myself in art, study neuroscience,
and later, to become a psychotherapist. Today I combine all my passions
as the CEO of InteraXon, a thought-controlled computing company. My goal, quite simply, is to help people
become more in tune with themselves. I take it from this
little dictum, “Know thyself.” If you think about it, this imperative is kind of the defining
characteristic of our species, isn’t it? I mean, it’s self-awareness that separates Homo sapiens
from earlier instances of our mankind. Today we’re often too busy tending to our iPhones and iPods
to really stop and get to know ourselves. Under the deluge of minute-to-minute
text conversations, e-mails, relentless exchange
of media channels and passwords and apps
and reminders and Tweets and tags, we lose sight of what all this fuss is
supposed to be about in the first place: Ourselves. Much of the time we’re transfixed by all of the ways we can reflect
ourselves out into the world. And we can barely find the time to reflect
deeply back in on our own selves. We’ve cluttered ourselves up
with all this. And we feel like we have to get
far, far away to a secluded retreat, leaving it all behind. So we go far away
to the top of a mountain, assuming that perching
ourselves on a piece is bound to give us the respite we need
to sort the clutter, the chaotic everyday, and find ourselves again. But on that mountain where we gain
that beautiful peace of mind, what are we really achieving? It’s really only a successful escape. Think of the term we use, “Retreat.” This is the term that armies use
when they’ve lost a battle. It means we’ve got to get out of here. Is this how we feel
about the pressures of our world, that in order to get inside ourselves, you have to run for the hills? And the problem with escaping
your day-to-day life is that you have to come home, eventually. So when you think about it, we’re almost like a tourist
visiting ourselves over there. And eventually, that vacation’s got
to come to an end. So my question to you is, can we find ways to know ourselves
without the escape? Can we redefine our relationship
with the technologized world in order to have the heightened
sense of self-awareness that we seek? Can we live here and now in our wired web and still follow those ancient
instructions, “Know thyself?” I say the answer is yes. And I’m here today to share a new way that we’re working
with technology to this end, to get familiar with our inner self
like never before — humanizing technology
and furthering that age-old quest of ours to more fully know the self. It’s called thought-controlled computing. You may or may not have noticed that I’m wearing a tiny
electrode on my forehead. This is actually a brainwave sensor that’s reading the electrical
activity of my brain as I give this talk. These brainwaves are being analyzed
and we can see them as a graph. Let me show you what it looks like. That blue line there is my brainwave. It’s the direct signal being recorded
from my head, rendered in real time. The green and red bars show
that same signal displayed by frequency, with lower frequencies here and higher frequencies up here. You’re actually looking
inside my head as I speak. These graphs are compelling,
they’re undulating, but from a human’s perspective,
they’re actually not very useful. That’s why we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to make this data
meaningful to the people who use it. For instance, what if I could use this data to find out
how relaxed I am at any moment? Or what if I can take that information and put it into an organic
shape up on the screen? The shape on the right over here has become an indicator
of what’s going on in my head. The more relaxed I am, the more the energy’s going
to fall through it. I may also be interested in knowing
how focused I am, so I can put my level of attention
into the circuit board on the other side. And the more focused my brain is, the more the circuit board
is going to surge with energy. Ordinarily, I would have no way
of knowing how focused or relaxed I was in any tangible way. As we know, our feelings
about how we’re feeling are notoriously unreliable. We’ve all had stress creep up
on us without even noticing it until we lost it on someone
who didn’t deserve it, and then we realize that we probably
should have checked in with ourselves a little earlier. This new awareness
opens up vast possibilities for applications that help
improve our lives and ourselves. We’re trying to create technology
that uses the insights to make our work more efficient,
our breaks more relaxing and our connections deeper
and more fulfilling than ever. I’m going to share some of these
visions with you in a bit, but first I want to take
a look at how we got here. By the way, feel free to check
in on my head at any time. (Laughter) My team at InteraXon and I have been developing thought-controlled
application for almost a decade now. In the first phase of development, we were really enthused by all the things
we could control with our mind. We were making things activate,
light up and work just by thinking. We were transcending the space
between the mind and the device. We brought to life a vast array
of prototypes and products that you could control with your mind, like thought-controlled home appliances or slot-car games or video games
or a levitating chair. We created technology and applications
that engaged people’s imaginations, and it was really exciting. And then we were asked to do something
really big for the Olympics. We were invited to create
a massive installation at the Vancouver 2010 winter Olympics, were used in Vancouver, got to control the lighting
on the CN Tower, the Canadian Parliament
buildings and Niagara Falls from all the way across the country
using their minds. Over 17 days at the Olympics,
7,000 visitors from all over the world actually got to individually
control the light from the CN Tower, parliament
and Niagara in real time with their minds from across
the country, 3,000 km away. So controlling stuff
with your mind is pretty cool. But we’re always interested in multitiered
levels of human interaction. And so we began looking into inventing
thought-controlled applications in a more complex frame than just control. And that was responsiveness. We realized that we had a system that allowed technology
to know something about you. And it could join
into the relationship with you. We created the responsive room where the lights, music and blinds
adjusted to your state. They followed these little shifts
in your mental activity. So as you settled into relaxation
at the end of a hard day, on the couch in our office, the music would mellow with you. When you read, the desk lamp
would get brighter. If you nod off, the system would know,
dimming to darkness as you do. We then realized that if technology
could know something about you and use it to help you, there’s an even more valuable
application than that. That you could know
something about yourself. We could know sides of ourselves
that were all but invisible and come to see things
that were previously hidden. Let me show you an example
of what I’m talking about here. Here’s an application
that I created for the iPad. So the goal of the original game Zen Bound
is to wrap a rope around a wooden form. So you use it with your headset. The headset connects wirelessly
to an iPad or a smartphone. In that headset, you have fabric sensors
on your forehead and above the ear. In the original Zen Bound game, you play it by scrolling
your fingers over the pad. In the game that we created, of course, you control the wooden form
that’s on the screen there with your mind. As you focus on the wooden form, it rotates. The more you focus,
the faster the rotation. This is for real. This is not a fake. What’s really interesting to me though is at the end of the game, you get stats
and feedback about how you did. You have graphs and charts
that tell you how your brain was doing — not just how much rope you used
or what your high score is, but what was going on inside of your mind. And this is valuable feedback that we can use to understand
what’s going on inside of ourselves. I like to call this “intra-active.” Normally, we think
about technology as interactive. This technology is intra-active. It understands what’s inside of you and builds a sort
of responsive relationship between you and your technology so that you can use this information
to move you forward. So you can use this information
to understand you in a responsive loop. At InteraXon — intra-active technology
is one of our really defining mandates. It’s how we understand the world inside
and reflect it outside into this tight loop. For example, thought-controlled computing can teach children with ADD
how to improve their focus. With ADD, children have a low proportion
of beta waves for focus states and a high proportion of theta states. So you can create applications
that reward focused brain states. So you can imagine kids playing
video games with their brain waves and improving their ADD
symptoms as they do it. This can be as effective as Ritalin. Perhaps even more importantly, thought-controlled computing
can give children with ADD insights into their own fluctuating
mental states, so they can better understand themselves
and their learning needs. The way these children will be able to use
their new awareness to improve themselves will upend many of the damaging
and widespread social stigmas that people who are diagnosed
as different are challenged with. We can peer inside our heads and interact with what was once
locked away from us, what once mystified and separated us. Brainwave technology can understand us,
anticipate our emotions and find the best solutions for our needs. Imagine this collected
awareness of the individual computed and reflected
across an entire lifespan. Imagine the insights that you can gain
from this kind of second sight. It would be like plugging
into your own personal Google. On the subject of Google, today you can search and tag images based on the thoughts and feelings
you had while you watched them. You can tag pictures
of baby animals as happy, or whatever baby animals are to you, and then you can search that database,
navigating with your feelings, rather than the keywords
that just hint at them. Or you could tag Facebook photos with the emotions that you had
associated with those memories and then instantly prioritize
the streams that catch your attention, just like this. Humanizing technology
is about taking what’s already natural about the human-tech experience and building technology
seamlessly in tandem with it. As it aligns with our human behaviors, it can allow us to make
better sense of what we do and, more importantly, why. Creating a big picture
out of all the important little details that make up who we are. With humanized technology we can monitor
the quality of your sleep cycles. When our productivity starts to slacken,
we can go back to that data and see how we can make more effective
balance between work and play. Do you know what causes fatigue in you
or what brings out your energetic self, what triggers cause you to be depressed or what fun things are going
to bring you out of that funk? Imagine if you had access to data that allowed you to rank
on a scale of overall happiness which people in your life
made you the happiest, or what activities brought you joy. Would you make more time for those people?
Would you prioritize? Would you get a divorce? (Laughter) What thought-controlled computing
can allow you to do is build colorful layered
pictures of our lives. And with this, we can get the skinny
on our psychological happenings and build a story
of our behaviors over time. We can begin to see the underlying
narratives that propel us forward and tell us about what’s going on. And from this, we can learn
how to change the plot, the outcome and the character of our personal stories. Two millennia ago, those Greeks
had some powerful insights. They knew that a fundamental
piece falls into place when you start to live
out their little phrase, when you come into contact with yourself. They understood the power
of human narrative and the value that we place on humans
as changing, evolving and growing. But they understood something
more fundamental — the sheer joy in discovery, the delight and fascination
that we get from the world and being ourselves in it; the richness that we get from seeing,
feeling and knowing the lives that we are. My mom’s an artist, and as a child, I’d often see her bring
things to life with the stroke of a brush. One moment, it was
all white space, pure possibility. The next, it was alive
with her colorful ideas and expressions. As I sat easel-side, watching her
transform canvas after canvas, I learned that you could
create your own world. I learned that our own inner worlds — our ideas, emotions and imaginations — were, in fact, not bound
by our brains and bodies. If you could think it,
if you could discover it, you could bring it to life. To me, thought-controlled computing is as simple and powerful
as a paintbrush — one more tool to unlock and enliven
the hidden worlds within us. I look forward to the day
that I can sit beside you, easel-side, watching the world that we can create
with our new toolboxes and the discoveries
that we can make about ourselves. Thank you. (Applause)

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100 thoughts on “Ariel Garten: Know thyself, with a brain scanner

  1. Brain control from a outside source please explain what am i suposed to be excited?

    something about this is off-putting.

  2. digital control…wow… are they going to collect this data? possibly monitor it later? if your to active then your considered a potential risk, this can tech backfire. naaa thanks ill skip this BS

  3. So much negative feedback.. Funny how people always take off on some point that is usually well beyond anything even presented in the first place.. Does anyone think about innovation at all? Come up with ways to use stuff in new ways? No.. probably not, your all to narrow minded.

  4. @lequebecois2
    Well I don't see as any different to an animal that hibernates because it won't have any food for the next few months, or that takes care of its cub until its older so it can survive. These are all long term goals as good as any human goals in my opinion. What seperates us from them is that we're AWARE as to WHY we're doing what we do, and that introspection into our actions and what consequences they will have is what self awareness defines itself as.

  5. @lequebecois2
    Be restricted by the fact they don't have the same amount of grey matter, which limits their capacity to store information that we have found essential to our survival. In short lol we have bigger brains but that would have all been but useless if we weren't self aware to the extent we are now.

  6. At some point you can be warned if your brain is having a natural bias exploited, which is fine when watching movies but will help you avoid getting swindled.

  7. Excellent talk, and I love the subject of brain to machine interfaces. I suspect, we will see a lot more electrodes in the future that connect us with machines. Having talks like this gives us a bit of the glimpse for the near future. Of course, these are just the baby steps, and we will advance further. I look forward to the day, where I can just plug myself into a virtual world – literally.

  8. @lauraneville Well she may come across as how you see it, but I did not see it that way. To me she seemed to simply be providing examples for using the technology, and using her insight to speak to an audience about it. I am not as possessive about stuff as most other people, and that includes ideas. She is talking about ways to use the stuff. And as new tech is required form can be made to fit function once the desired function has been identified. I am glad to see this sort of tech exhibited.

  9. Christ on a bike, what a nervous creature. If she had spent her time meditating, maybe she could have reached a healthy metabolic rate, or is this behavior mostly genetic?

    The idea is interesting, but i would have loved to see a compact presentation, with much less buzz-talk.

  10. She looks insincere, seems like she just know the routine very well, but make an impression that she unnaturally expressive, because she tries to be. It is my humble opinion.

  11. know thy self, via a computer program. Sorry, but this is bs. To know thyself, one would realize that they are relaxed. The monitor on her forehead was picking up her speech patterns.

  12. @lovebuffmuscle totally agree. imagine the dystopian implications of technology embedded in the environment that could read your thoughts? fortunately, this technology as she presents it smacks of oversimplification. can we really boil it down to black and white which wave corresponds to what thought? rubbish!

  13. @leconfidant What now? Feedback is necessary when learning anything. That's why this technology could improve human self control, emotional state and cognitive skills. Trust her? Did she ask you to trust her? Power? What power? You think it sounds like she's saying something and therefore you dislike it? Sounds more like an emotional response than sound reasoning.

  14. @shadywalker if you think there is something of substance in her argument then by all means help us to see it. calling people names does not suggest that you actually have a point worth listening to, IMO.

  15. @inverhillsphilo I'm not calling names, i'm classifying. Not sure what part you thought was an argument. This lady is talking about her life, and it is pretty obvious that she is involved in developing software that uses brain scanner data to produce information that is useful to people. Its all about what the software can let you do, and the possibilities are vast. If you can think of it, if you discover it, you can bring it to life. Its all of substance to me, i'm just not as picky as you.

  16. This is one of the worst ted talks I have ever seen. A bunch of psycho babble , so she can show you a brain wave on a screen and some colour big deal.She can't even control her own brain

  17. @Theomacho noo, just, your comment (' were dreaming about such a thing') made me picture someone who couldn't do without checking at anytime what's on the screen to know what they're feeling or thinking. i just found it a little bit funny. and i suggested to you not to talk so sure and wait until you had one, so it could tell you if it is really what you thought. was just a joke. nevermind

  18. TED Talks used to be amazing… Now the vast majority are just a pile of stuff that you flush down the loo… This being a prime example…

  19. Imagine if corporations could get access to the emotional data of our minds. Think of the phenomenal wrongdoings that others can do now that the data of our minds is no longer isolated within our heads. Regardless of what you think of the talk, this talk gives great insight into the implications technology will have on all of our futures.

  20. This made me feel like:
    I was watching commercial
    Something that was only missing a powerpoint to truly finish the experience
    Tried to be deep and thought provoking by repeating the same phrase(s).

  21. Those games re: brainwaves in ADD kids? I've played them, except to help fatigue n stuff, they use them in Australia to help people deal with chronic pain because pain has its own brain waves. It really works so I wonder why she's talking about this technology as if it's brand new? I did it 6 or 7 years ago and I think it was called something different. Biofeedback, I think

  22. The way it's set up is that equipment will only read certain electrical impulses (brainwaves). So eg: they will set up the light dimmers (equipment) to only work for the brainwave related to relaxation. No wonder you can "control" it with your thoughts. It just reads electrical impulses.

    Nothing can read your mind. Stupid

  23. from a scientific perspective, the collection of neural activities in your brain is what determines your thoughts, vocabulary, actions, morals, beliefs, etc. Different interactions between different neuron chains = different set of thoughts, vocab, etc… your brain activities can be completely different in two different moments in time, that, scientifically speaking, you can't even say you were the same person in both instances.. point is, there's no way to read one's mind like she claims!

  24. She's a really good speaker (I bet Toastmasters will weep), she even used the golden circle of why-how-what (as described in the TEDtalk How Great Leaders Inspire Action by Simon Sinek).

    Perhaps the commenters are being too harsh on the possibilities of how this tech will be used. Granted, it can be abused, but it can be used for good too. Would you rather live in a world w/o Internet or TV? Where information or communication was via snail mail, not a chat away?

  25. The information liberation of our age has sped up innovation. There are those scammers who misuse, but there are those who work for the good, think of the social workers, foundations, or Googles and Apples of the world we so admire. Everything has advantages and disadvantages, we'll just have to find ways to swing it to the better.

  26. @yousuckvlog She still talks to much though ;P… But seriously though, I think the introduction takes way too long and too abstract.

  27. @thinkingrequired Like the line in The Social Network, "private behavior is a relic of a time gone by." It's already true.

  28. This is like nuclear power… Powerful and could be used for great good or great evil. Impressive work…. Not comfy with the concept tho.

  29. be careful what you ask for .. they will use this to control and enforce on people ..
    theses are enemies of the human race …

  30. "normally I would have no way of knowing how relaxed or focused I am in any tangible way"

    So how do we know what focus or relaxation is?

    To focus on brain activity removes the importance of every time one has relaxed, and been focused, and known what that meant.

    We had to do activities which required focus, or were relaxing and TALK to eachother about them to learn what focus and relaxation were. Any scanning of the brain can only come AFTER WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT FOCUS AND RELAXATION ARE

  31. Interesting talk, though a sales pitch of course and not seemingly very genuine meaningful. The very idea that one could truly understand oneself with a gadget smacks of Scientology and lacks substance. Quite a leap. It also appears be an ego stroke and cry for attention. Being sincere and understanding one’s own motivations is very difficult & not many can operate like that & that's OK.. just ironic coming from someone lecturing on self-knowledge. Ms. Garten would make a fine actress.

  32. When there is no much to say how to hold attention? Just flicker your hands.
    "Manipulate" is from Latin "manus" – hand.
    15 min!! what a waste

  33. Anyone else think this technology could be used for the same purposes in Minority Report? That is, reading criminals minds and convicting them before they even commit the crime.

  34. many are not focused not by the content of her talk but by her appearance. she is a ceo with great ideas sharing her knowledge and visions, thats amazing

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