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Prof. Tejal Desai is a leader in a field with a big name—biological microelectromechanical systems (BioMEMS)—that deals with very small items. She uses the tools of semiconductor manufacturing to make minuscule medical devices, such as a miniature artificial pancreas and scaffolding for tissue regeneration. She’s been widely recognized as one of the top young scientists in the country, having won distinctions such as the National Academy of Engineering Frontiers in Engineering Award in 2001. Desai, an IEEE member since 1997, recently spoke with IEEE Spectrum from her offices at the University of California, San Francisco.

What can semiconductor manufacturing techniques do for medicine?

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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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