Three years ago, with perhaps a bit too much fanfare, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced a new effort to develop a full-body, performance-enhancing exoskeleton--a powered, mechanical support system attached to a person�s limbs. Reporters had a field day with the news, spinning out breathless and fantastic accounts of super-human soldiers capable of running for days, impervious to the elements, and fending off all manner of chemical and biological attack.

The reality of exoskeleton research was and is quite different. As the DARPA program begins to yield its first results, what is clear is that exoskeletons aren�t going to magically transform men into killing machines. What they�re really good at, it turns out, is enabling soldiers to carry heavy loads over great distances for hours at a time. They�re also showing promise for others who do a lot of heavy lifting, including nurses, firefighters , and disaster recovery workers.

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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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