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Tracing the Technology of Pleasure

Rachel Maines's quirky research project makes it to the big screen

4 min read

Rachel Maines never thought she'd have to produce her Social Security card to prove she was a scholar. Her reputation was suddenly in jeopardy, and the heads of electrical engineering societies panicked at the sight of her name. Maines was concerned that perhaps her arousing area of research was simply too much for mainstream science to bear.

But her fate took a turn for minor stardom recently, as this serious visiting scholar, based at Cornell University's Department of Science and Technology Studies, became the unexpected link between a certain publishing house of technical journals, figures of the 1970s feminist movement, and a racy electromechanical device. On a Saturday in late July, she smiled broadly in response to hearty applause from a crowd of film aficionados and activists at a screening at Lincoln Center, the well-respected performance space in Manhattan. Her book, The Technology of Orgasm: ”Hysteria,” the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction, (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999) had just been made into a documentary film.

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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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