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‘Fitbit for your brain’: Tracking your brain activity with earphones may soon be possible

Neurable’s MW75 Neuro headphones by Master & Dynamic are available for pre-ordering, at for €645.
Neurable’s MW75 Neuro headphones by Master & Dynamic are available for pre-ordering, at for €645. Copyright Aylin Elci/Euronews
Copyright Aylin Elci/Euronews
By Aylin Elci
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The founders of Neurable want to make brain measurement accessible to all. Their first-of-its-kind headphones could bring brain tracking to the masses.

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When Apple launched its watch in 2015, the wearable device felt like a gadget. Ten years on, millions of users use its heart rate and movement tracking functions, with some even detecting arrhythmia and Parkinson’s disease with it.

Neurable co-founder Dr Ramses Alcaide wants us to be able to do the same for our brains.

“It’s crazy how we’re not tracking the most important organ in our body,” he told Euronews Next. “There are people with Alzheimer's that don't even know that they have these diseases until ten years in. That's insane, and it shouldn't happen any more”.

While classical instruments to record brain waves, electroencephalograms (EEG), are usually cumbersome wearable devices with over a hundred sensors, Neurable has spent the last ten years creating an EEG device that can fit into a headphone. 

The company believes tracking your brain waves can help you focus and improve lives, including by tracking Alzheimer's, post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson's disease, fatigue, and even attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 

How Neurable headphones work

Connections between the neurons in our brain create electrical activity, which increases when we focus. EEGs track the activity that pours out of our brains and into our scalps.

Neurable’s technology uses AI to amplify the signals and detect patterns using algorithms. Depending on the brain wave, the tech can determine whether someone is focused or not.

“Your brain gets tired before your body does, but you normally only take a break when your body gets tired because your brain has no pain receptors. It can't tell you that it's tired,” explained Alcaide, who suffers from ADHD himself and uses the headphones to focus.

Neurable co-founder Ramses Alcaide presenting the device at the AI for Good Summit in Geneva.
Neurable co-founder Ramses Alcaide presenting the device at the AI for Good Summit in Geneva.Aylin Elci/Euronews

“The earphones help prevent burnout by letting me know when I should be taking breaks at the right time. And if I ever get distracted, it'll play an audible tone to remind me to get back to focus. I use that a lot when I read,” he detailed.

Neurable only builds the AI part of this brain-computer interface (BCI) and partners with manufacturers to include EEG in their products.

Its first headphones were developed with high-end audio equipment creator Master & Dynamic. While they track their brain waves, users can listen to music and cancel outside noise, just like with other high-end headphones.

Wait, what about my data?

While it is possible to decode language “to some extent” with BCIs, it is currently only possible to do so with invasive devices or with MRIs.

The company prides itself on selling to end users instead of corporations and using data “to directly benefit the person from which it’s derived,” according to Adam Molnar, co-founder of Neurable and an expert in data privacy. Raw user data is processed by the Neurable chip in headphones and de-authenticated before being shared with the accompanying app.

While they treat data with caution, the founders are also confident the information isn’t sensitive should it fall into the hands of hackers.

Cerebral activity data as recorded on the Neurable app. Dark blue columns indicate deep focus.
Cerebral activity data as recorded on the Neurable app. Dark blue columns indicate deep focus.Aylin Elci/Euronews

“Let’s say you had someone’s focus flows, you would need to know a lot more, like what they were doing and where they were, in order to start ‘unethical inference’. And we don't build that into the app,” said Molnar.

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The co-founder added that despite the many possible abuses with BCI, Neurable is focusing on the “most beneficial” uses.

“When you drive, there's an engine sign for when your oil needs to be changed. You can still drive hundreds, if not thousands of miles when that light is on, but it is suggested that if you take care of this, you can help the machines in the long term. And I don't think the brain is that different,” Molnar explained. 

Cognitive inequality

For Dr Marcello Ienca, a professor of the ethics of AI and neuroscience at the Technical University of Munich, devices that enhance our capabilities are exciting but require caution. 

He stressed that the success of BCIs depends on their responsible use and attention to privacy. He also warned about the risks of inequality.

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“I don’t think this technology is unethical per se, we humans tend to improve our functions all the time. But it will be very risky to do it in a world where the technology is unevenly distributed. It will amplify inequalities globally more than anything else because it introduces a cognitive inequality,” he said of technologies like Neurable’s headphones, which are capable of boosting people’s mental capacities.

Neurable’s MW75 Neuro headphones can currently be pre-ordered for $700 (€645) (Master & Dynamic’s original, AI-free version of the model costs $100 (€92) less), with orders shipping to the US and Canada starting in September.

“We would like to be able to integrate this into less expensive products so that it increases the accessibility of the product. But most products that have deep tech start out in the high spectrum. Think of the Tesla Roadster, which was made more scalable as various models were put out,” said co-founder Molnar.

If adopted by the general public, Neurable’s technology would open the doors to tracking cerebral activity at home on a never-before-seen scale.

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“We're giving people agency to understand how their brain is working so that they can better act on it,” said Molnar.

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