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Good Vibrations

Stochastic resonance could bring some balance to all walks of life

2 min read

One garden's weeds are another's roses. Stochastic resonance, a quirky phenomenon in which adding a little noise to a system improves rather than impedes its performance, is a case in point. Long observed in biology as well as electrical engineering, it is known to increase the ability of some fish to catch their prey, of neurons to synchronize their activity, and of lasers and solid state devices to become more precise.

Now James J. Collins and his colleagues at Boston University and Afferent Corp., of Providence, R.I, are exploiting stochastic resonance in the service of rehabilitative medicine [see their article, "Balancing Act," in this issue]. Noise-based technology may prove useful in overcoming age- and disease-related losses in sensory-motor function. The work they describe here could lead to an electromechanical device that enhances the sensation of touch and thereby improves an individual's sense of balance.

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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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