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App Captures the Boston Bombing’s Psychological Effects

Could psychological-monitoring apps become as common as fitness and activity gadgets?

3 min read
App Captures the Boston Bombing’s Psychological Effects
A Mind Minder: Cogito's mood-monitoring app can detect signals of psychological distress
Image: Cogito

In April, the software company Cogito was halfway through a clinical trial to see if it could detect symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through a smartphone app. All of the 100 participants in the study lived around Boston. Then, on 15 April, two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds. Suddenly, Cogito’s clinical trial was a lot more relevant.

The trial was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) under its Detection and Computational Analysis of Psychological Signals program. To address the troubling number of psychological problems and suicides among active-duty military personnel and veterans, the U.S. Department of Defense is seeking technologies that can identify at-risk individuals so professionals can help them.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
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A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic
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Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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