The New Wearable Tech that Boosts Creativity

Despite whatever Apple says about their iWatch, the most fascinating wearable tech hitting the market are ones that go beyond tallying footsteps and calories. That make you feel and think differently. Call them neuroenhancers — or, if you prefer something that doesn’t sound so ominous — thinkables.

The hottest one in stores is Muse, InteraXon’s brain-sensing headband. It trains your mind to calm down and focus. (Think Yoda — but white, plastic and with useful data instead of inverted proverbs.) InteraXon first unveiled the gizmo at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. You might remember it: thousands of people lined up to control the lights on the CN Tower, Niagara Falls and the Parliament buildings by relaxing their thoughts. The stunt made for good TV in between hockey games, but since then, Muse has attracted over $6 million in venture capital, promising inner-peace to the masses.

“It gives you real-time feedback on what’s happening in your mind, which makes it easier for you to notice when you’re veering off-course — like rumble strips on the highway,” Trevor Coleman, InteraXon co-founder, says.

Here’s how it works: you download an app (there’s always an app!), wear the sleek headband and focus on your breathing while viewing a beach scene on your smartphone. Pressed to your skin are seven electroencephalography (EEG) sensors, each measuring your brain waves, which are then translated into soundscapes. If your mind is calm, you’ll hear a light breeze. If it wanders, the breeze becomes a tempest.

My mind sounded like a tsunami. Coleman expected that. In the over-stimulated, distracted age we live in, reaching app-fueled nirvana takes practice. I was never able to do it.

But if you’re impatient, neuroenhancers that apply a little more pressure will soon hit your local Best Buy. Thync, out later this year, uses “neurosignaling”—a low current sent to the head via electrodes—to shift your brain waves, making you feel more energized or relaxed. The company plans to add other treatments, like creativity and self-control in the future.

Which is great, if only I could shake the sense of foreboding. Thync’s CEO Isy Goldwasser assures me there’s no need to worry (which is exactly what you’d expect Big Brother to say). “We have no idea how to control people,” he says. “There’s not even an inkling in neuroscience of how to do that.” Think of them like caffeine, he says, only without the crash. And while the drug you know is always less scary than the drug you don’t, that doesn’t mean the possibilities aren’t exciting. InteraXon is developing apps for the Muse that will allow users to paint, compose music or play video games with their minds. Even broader applications might let you control household electronics, vehicles and cooking appliances—all without lifting a finger. It’s only just begun.