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Deep-Brain Stimulators for Parkinson's Disease Increase Impulsive Decision Making

Electronic brain implants make it harder to decide what's better than good

3 min read

26 October 2007—Deep-brain stimulators, implanted devices that send pulses of current into small regions of the brain, help thousands of people with Parkinson’s disease get through their daily lives. But while quelling people’s tremors, these implants may also be scrambling their ability to make decisions, according to a report published yesterday on the Web site of the journal Science. In the study, patients with electronic implants in a part of the brain called the subthalamic nucleus acted more impulsively on certain tasks when the stimulator was turned on than when it was temporarily turned off.

Such implants have been used to treat motor disorders since 1987, when Alim-Louis Benabid and Pierre Pollak first tried using one on a subject in France. In the United States, the pacemaker firm Medtronic, in Minneapolis, has offered deep-brain stimulators for people with Parkinson’s since 2002. About 40 000 people around the world rely on Medtronic stimulators today to treat Parkinson’s disease and other motor disorders.

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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
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

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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