The human brain causes all of the world's problems. Bryan Johnson wants to "decode" it

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28 April 2022

The man who can "read minds" - Bryan Johnson, Founder and CEO of Kernel - was one of the biggest highlights of Reflect Festival. 

Johnson's company is building groundbreaking next-generation, non-invasive brain-machine interfaces. This technology can do what has never been adequately done before: measure brain activity in real time using a wearable helmet. If Kernel can indeed make brain measurement mainstream, this can revolutionize how we approach multiple issues, including mental health. 

The Reflect team traveled to Kernel's headquarters in Los Angeles to conduct an exclusive interview, discussing the capabilities of brain-computer interfaces a the possibilities that would come. 

The brain behind it all

Climate change, social unrest, extremism, automation, inflation, hunger… Some of the biggest problems humanity faces today, and one thing to connect them all - the human brain. Johnson wondered that if it's us making the decisions, what could be done? That's when he recognized the opportunities that would open up if only we could measure and understand our minds. "I came upon the idea that if we could build an interface that was actually scalable to measure the brain, then it would be possible we'd enter an era of data enlightenment. That we might be able to understand ourselves and each other with more granularity which might help us make better decisions individually and collectively," he explained. 

It's crucial to understand that Kernel is not about controlling something with your mind. Most people would imagine a brain interface that can move a cursor or change a channel, but instead, it's fundamentally about measurement and subsequent "economy of insights" based upon it.

The next level of mental health

Bryan often talks about his own experiences with mental health struggles and criticizes how medicine addresses the treatment. "It's helpful to put this in context of the level of insanity of the way we address mental health today," he says, inviting people to imagine visiting a cardiologist, telling the doctor how they feel, and taking home a bottle of statins without any tests. 

"We would consider that insane, but that's what we do with our brains today. We sit in a chair, we try to assess how we feel, then we're given a bottle of something, and we take it. And if we could baseline this in measurement, we might be able to bring some sanity to the way in which we address we even diagnose and address mental health and wellness.

A precise understanding of our minds combined with scientific validity could also unlock the full potential of psychedelics. There are few fields as exciting in the past few years, and as Bryan points out, neuroscience can finally "come out of the lab and have real-life benefits to what we encounter on a daily basis."

Audaciously looking ahead

Fear - particularly fear of AI - stops us from imagining an extraordinary future. "If we look out at the horizon and we say what the most audacious thing we can imagine is, it would be evolving ourselves past our current form into something else that is unrecognizable, that has not been identified. We don't talk about it; we haven't oriented ourselves towards that," Bryan believes. He wishes that society wouldn't focus primarily on solving problems that pose imminent threats but on having aspirations that no generations before could dream of. 

"We have an opportunity that no generation of intelligent life has ever had where we can aspire to a future of existence that exceeds our imagination by orders of magnitude that we just can't comprehend," Bryan reiterates. "It would just be a tragedy if we didn't recognize the specialness of our opportunity for each of us to do what we can on this."

Watch the entire interview with Bryan here:

​​Bryan Johnson is the founder and CEO of Kernel, a builder of two next-generation, non-invasive brain-machine interfaces. Johnson was the founder/CEO of Braintree Venmo, which PayPal acquired for $800M in 2013; and of OS Fund, where he invested $100M in the predictable engineering of atoms, molecules, and organisms. He is an outdoor adventure enthusiast, pilot, and author of children's books, Code 7 and The Proto Project.

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