Unlocking untapped human potential
All human beings possess vast untapped potential. Even those who have achieved amazing things usually admit they have more to offer. This potential to improve originates in our brains. Contrary to prior dogma, we now know that the brain is capable of developing throughout life – allowing us to think better, to release new creativity, and to connect with others more meaningfully. We can continue to hone our ability to control our own thoughts and emotions over time, skills that are essential to enhancing human performance in all realms.
Recent advances in neuroscience are unraveling the mechanisms and pathways of the brain. Brain imaging now reveals where and how certain brain functions occur. We understand many of the ways in which the brain can falter over time or with disease. More important, we know how the brain can improve or expand its capabilities via certain mechanisms, inputs, and experiences.
Convergence of human-computer interaction with neuroscience
At the same time that our neuroscientific understanding of the brain is advancing, digital technology that interfaces with the brain is rapidly developing. This new wave of technology profoundly influences the electrical and chemical activity of the brain – unleashing its untapped potential. Technology that modulates brain function used to require direct chemical interaction, such as pharmaceuticals used to treat depression, or direct electrical interfaces, such as deep brain stimulation used to treat Parkinson’s disease.
Today, however, powerful brain-influencing technology can be non-pharmacologic and non-invasive: virtual and augmented reality, sensors and neurofeedback, robotics, artificial intelligence, neurogaming, and non-invasive electrical stimulation systems. We have named this convergence of digital technology that influences the brain to improve human performance Experiential Technology, or “XTech.”
Experiential technology harnesses neuroscientific knowledge to enhance cognition, memory, awareness, decision-making, communication, learning, and motor skills. Experiential technology can improve our wellbeing as normal people and can also reverse certain disorders of the brain. Experiential technology will create major new advances in human performance that will impact health, wellness, education, training, and entertainment.
Experiential Technology (XTech) enhances brain capabilities
Examples of the significant impact of experiential technology (XTech) are diverse and wide-reaching. Recently, National Institutes of Health-sponsored researchers at University of Washington collaborating with a technology company showed that children suffering from severe burns could reduce the pain associated with their wound care by 75% if they were immersed in a virtual reality experience called Snow World that brings them into a make-believe cold, calm, and fun environment. These children required 64% less medication to relieve their suffering during the care of their burns. There have been numerous scientific publications showing the capability of virtual and augmented reality to modulate the brain in other beneficial or therapeutic ways.
Another group at University of California, San Francisco studied older people with normal age-related declines in cognition and multitasking capabilities. In this scenario, neuroscientists specifically designed a training paradigm to stimulate and train neural pathways in the brain that govern attention. They embedded this paradigm into an engaging video game such that the therapy was “working behind the scenes” to deliver an experience that felt more like fun than medicine.
After training with this game paradigm, these older people were able to improve their cognitive abilities to resemble those of individuals in their twenties. These improvements persisted for at least 6 months after the training ended and, critically, the cognitive capabilities they gained transferred outside of the training environment and into real world activities. This work, hailed as major scientific breakthrough, was published in the esteemed and highly selective peer-reviewed scientific journal Nature.
While not widely publicized, many groups, including the United States military, have shown the ability of non-invasive energy delivery to the brain to enhance skill development and training. In one study performed by the United States Army and Air Force, the training time required for elite soldiers to excel at various tasks, such as sniper accuracy or drone pilot training, could be reduced by 50% when training sessions were accompanied by transcranial electrical stimulation of the brain. There are numerous other specific examples of the far-reaching capabilities of experiential technology to enhance the capabilities of the brain.
Large new human performance markets
Experiential technology is advancing quickly as brain science infuses broad digital technology platforms. An investigation into the commercial market has revealed hundreds of companies currently developing and commercializing experiential technology products. These companies are creating brand new sectors in the health, wellness, education, and entertainment markets. It is estimated that new segments of these markets in digital therapeutics, neurowellness, accelerated learning, and neurotainment will reach $50 billion by 2025. As these technologies become widespread, we will have many more opportunities to unlock and expand the capabilities of our brains — and our potential as human beings.