Brain-scanning devices will revolutionise
advertising, says wearable tech chief

| 10 comments

Google Glass

News: data collected via Google Glass could soon be used to deliver advertising tailored to the wearer's taste, mood, and location, according to Tony Gaitatzis, a leading figure in the wearable technology sector.

"The potential is incredible and hyper-targeted to the point where it is no longer advertising," said Gaitatzis, who is chief technology officer at PND, a company developing wearable technology that monitors the human brain.

"Let's say a person goes to Barclays and geolocation recognises this," explained Gaitatzis in an interview with Dezeen. "Maybe it's time to start advertising Barclays to them."

PND is developing PND Wearable - a "personal neuro device" that gathers information on the wearer's moods, emotions and health. This data could be used by advertisers to target wearers of Google Glass head-mounted computers.

Google Glass
This image and main image: Google Glass. Images courtesy of Google

When combined with the geolocation features built into Glass, the devices could work out how wearers feel about brands they are engaging with, Gaitatzis explained.

"[If the wearer] hates Barclays and every time they are there they are in a really sour mood, maybe you want to advertise something else to them," he said. "Maybe you want to advertise the competition."

Google Glass is a voice-activated computer with a head-mounted display, allowing users to send and receive messages, take pictures and explore the web hands-free. Its internet connectivity enables the device to know exactly where you are at all times.

Gaitatzis said that Google - which has made billions of dollars from contextual advertising on traditional web platforms - doesn't allow staff or partners to mention the potential use of Glass for advertising. But he said the device could "absolutely" be used for that purpose.

He said" "If you can get the individual's personal taste coupled with all the other information you can get now with these sensors such as location, time, their social media - oh man, the potential is incredible."

PND Wearable
PND Wearable. Image courtesy of Personal Neuro Devices Inc.

The PND Wearable scans the brain for electrical activity that indicates the user's state of mind. It has been developed predominantly for medical purposes, helping individuals to recover from concussions, improve mental clarity, and allow users to better manage their stress levels by providing feedback in real-time.

"It's kind of like a personal trainer that benchmarks your progress," Gaitatzis explained. "It monitors your brain, sends that data to a mobile app, which then analyses how well you are concentrating and presents that live on screen so that you can start to feel the association between when you're concentrating effectively, and when you're not."

However the technology will be adopted by advertisers in the future as head-mouted computers become mainstream, Gaitatzis predicted.

"It's really weird and literally in your face to be wearing a pair of glasses that are a computer," said Gaitazsis. "But as the utility and the value proposition of that technology goes up and people become accustomed to finding ways of using it, [a] cultural shift will happen."

PND Wearable
PND Wearable. Image courtesy of Personal Neuro Devices Inc.

Here is a full transcript of the interview:


Ross Bryant: Could you explain what the PND Wearable is?

Tony Gaitatzis: PND Wearable is a brain-scanning technology. It is very slim and you wear it. At its core it's a brain-scanning device.

Ross Bryant: What stage of development are you at with this and when will it be available on the market?

Tony Gaitatzis: We’re still prototyping the wearable. The technology has actually been around for about 100 years, but because of computing we can scale it a lot smaller than it has been and mass-produce it. We’re probably about a year away from actual consumer production.

Ross Bryant: How long did you say the technology PND Wearable uses has been around for?

Tony Gaitatzis: It's about 100-120 years or something like that. It is something called Electroencephalography (EEG). Have you ever seen Back To The Future? Doc Brown wears that giant cap and tries to read Marty McFly's mind – that's the technology we're working with. Everything we know about sleep such as delta sleep, REM sleep and certain brain problems such as bipolar disorder have been learned through this technology over the last hundred years or so.

Ross Bryant: Could you explain how PND Wearable uses EEG technology to read a user's brain?

Tony Gaitatzis: The nerves in your brain produce electrical activity and that's how they transfer information through your brain. A little bit of that electrical activity leaks out of each cell. On a large scale throughout your entire brain there's enough electricity that leaks out to be picked up by a sensor that is placed on your forehead.

The pattern of electrical activity that emerges as your brain works is indicative of what is happening in your brain. From that we can tell things like if you're stressed, or if you're relaxed; if you’re meditating; if you have bipolar disorder or anxiety disorder; if you're going to have a seizure – things like that.

Ross Bryant: Once the device has read your brain and understood that your stress levels are high for example, what can the PND Wearable technology do for its wearer?

Tony Gaitatzis: We have several apps that do different things. In the case of stress, we don't actually have a stress management tool per se right now, but we're working on one that would monitor your stress level. If it passes a critical threshold, it warns you and says, 'Hey, you need to relax'. That's how that would work.

Ross Bryant: How can PND Wearable help people who have suffered brain injuries?

Tony Gaitatzis: It pairs with an app on your phone. The app that we are building at the moment is called Mind Bender, which is based on cognitive research around brain trauma. There are certain conditions caused by traumatic brain injury such as concentration levels, retention of memory, being present or focused as well as conscious of what's going on.

You can wear the PND Wearable, which monitors your brain and sends that data to the mobile app. This app analyses the data coming off your brain and figures out how well you are concentrating. It can present this data live on a screen so that you can start to feel the association between when you're concentrating effectively, and when you're not. It can generate a report after you've done each exercise to give feedback about where you're strengths and weaknesses are within that exercise, and if you are improving over time. It's kind of like a personal trainer that benchmarks your progress.

Ross Bryant: We ran a story recently about a woman who was attacked for wearing Google Glass. What are your views on that?

Tony Gaitatzis: I think it was an extreme case. About ten years ago I used to have a PalmPilot. It was before smartphones were popular and before people had cell phones. I loved it. It held my contacts, it scheduled my appointments – it did everything. I used to call it my backup brain. I really relied on it to get around. People who didn't have one would say, 'Oh you're just a douchebag with a PalmPilot, what do you need that thing for? It's stupid'. There was a resistance to the new technology. But then, when smartphones became useable and had good quality apps and good data connections, suddenly everybody had a smartphone. They became ubiquitous. Now people with smartphones make fun of somebody who has a flip-phone.

I think that Google Glass or a similar technology will go through the same. It's really weird and literally in your face to be wearing a pair of glasses that are a computer, but as the utility and the value proposition of that technology goes up and people become accustomed to finding ways to use it, the cultural shift will happen from 'Oh that douchebag is wearing Google Glass', to 'Oh that douchebag has an old version of Google Glass.'

Ross Bryant: Could social media be an application for this technology?

Tony Gaitatzis: There was a wristband that came out for a while that they gave to stock traders in New York. It measured their stress levels. It was useful to the stock traders to know when they were stressed as the quality of their decision-making went down when they were stressed, but because they were also very macho, showy people, they didn't want to show weakness. Stress is perceived as a form of weakness so they didn't want to wear it in public. They would wear it at home when they were working, but they didn't want to wear it in public because it would alert other people to the fact that they were stressed and aware of that stress, or concerned about being stressed.

I think there are a lot of social taboos in our society about mental illness and emotional vulnerability. People will not want to divulge this, especially with people they don’t trust or know. So the social aspect of what's happening in your mind will probably be limited to a select few friends and family, or caretakers.

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Ross Bryant: But it is conceivable that this kind of technology could understand what is going on in your mind, translate and communicate it to social media?

Tony Gaitatzis: Yes. In a way it's like a reality check. Let's say that you have anxiety disorder and you're prone to having anxiety attacks. Typically people who are having an anxiety attack have difficulty being rational during the time they are having the anxiety attack. If you have this thing that reads your mind and says, 'Hey, just so you know, it's time to relax a little bit', it provides that reality check for somebody who would otherwise go off the rails. That's an extreme example. But maybe in the future it will be possible to measure if somebody is sad or excited or something.

Ross Bryant: You've been quoted as saying that "technology that can improve our lives should be seamless, effortless and worry-free". Collecting data on what we are thinking and how we are feeling really worries a lot of people who are concerned technology will passively monitor our thoughts. How do you respond to that concern?

Tony Gaitatzis: It's a really complex issue because there's the fear of new technology. I remember reading once that when incandescent light bulbs first came out and they were installed at Grand Central Station, people would cover their babies because they were afraid that somehow the light would harm their children. Today that's obviously not a concern. People have grown with light bulbs and think of them as safe.

But you're right, there's a deeper issue that people have a belief that their thoughts and their moods are indistinguishable, and that it's almost like your soul, like this intangible thing that represents you. But actually, I think that as we realise how similar we are emotionally and psychologically, we can better relate to one another.

This technology can't read your thoughts, so that part of you is still very private. You still choose what you do, what you say and what your behaviours are – that all comes from you. Being able to monitor your mood, your stress and other things are tangential to that. They're kind of sensing the undercurrents of the water – it's not something that you can see and often people are blind to their own emotion because they are trapped in it. It's only when you can step out and see how it relates to other things you've done that you can get a broader picture of yourself and find out just how similar we are to one another.

Ross Bryant: The Wearable PND collects data. How is this data stored and what are the benefits of storing this data?

Tony Gaitatzis: This is really exciting. The PND Wearable transmits data to your mobile phone. You have to have an app that reads that data and processes it, then you can send it to the cloud. The utility of the app is pretty much up to your imagination and whatever algorithms you're capable of making to analyse what's happening in someone's brain.

Our cloud backend is really interesting because it allows for a couple of really awesome things. One is that it allows for data sharing between apps. The user has to also allow this, so if there is data that the user feels is sensitive – maybe it's a health monitoring app and they don’t want their insurance company to find out about whatever, they don't have to share the data, but if they want to share the data with this tool – this data tool – then other apps they use has access to data about their brain.

It also allows us to share algorithms. One of the major challenges of developing for brain scanning technology is that algorithms are very difficult to develop. It takes a very highly skilled individual who understands psychology, mathematics and statistics to be able to complete the research and the algorithm development to make sense of brain signals.

The other benefit is that it has been almost impossible to get hold of long-term data on an individual. In most cases you're working with people that come into the lab for twenty minuets at a time every week. So this cloud backend has the potential not only for average developers to come in and develop apps on existing algorithms, creating platforms that people have never thought of before, but also allows researchers access to people who have the capability to monitor their brain almost continually throughout the day. They will get very different types of data than they would get in a laboratory setting.

Ross Bryant: So this process allows developers and researches to build cleverer applications while enhancing utility?

Tony Gaitatzis: Exactly. The PND Cloud backend provides an interface for developers to access the mathematical capability that they otherwise wouldn’t.

Ross Bryant: Just to clarify, the cloud backend is a huge collection of data?

Tony Gaitatzis: Yes. Data and algorithms, which is managed in such a way where users can share or retrieve their data. It's their data, but they can share it with researchers if they want. They can share it between their own apps and developers can access algorithms and use them to analyse the users brainwaves.

I believe very strongly that if you contribute personal data to a system like this, it is your data.

Ross Bryant: Could this be channeled into advertising?

Tony Gaitatzis: Oh yeah, absolutely. The only reason I didn't use the word advertising in the press release was because when you are talking about Google Glass you're not allowed to say that you're going to use Google Glass as an advertising platform. But the truth is, let's say a person goes Barclays everyday. Maybe geolocation recognises this, and maybe it's time to start advertising Barclays to them. But they hate Barclays, so every time they are there you find that they are in a really sour mood, so maybe you want to advertise something else to them. Maybe you want to advertise the competition.

So yeah, that can add a really interesting dimension to marketing and advertising because right now they use market research to figure out what a smaller group wants, then they extrapolate on a bigger group. But if you can get the individual's personal taste coupled with all the other information you can get now with these sensors such as location, time, their social media - oh man, the potential is incredible and hyper, hyper targeted to the point where it is no longer advertising. You can almost call it information you actually want.

Ross Bryant: It's interesting you say that you're not allowed to mention advertising in relation to Google Glass. Is that factually correct?

Tony Gaitatzis: Yeah.

Ross Bryant: And yet you feel that this will be a huge use for it in the future?

Tony Gaitatzis: Oh yeah.

Ross Bryant: What else do you predict for the future of wearable technology?

Tony Gaitatzis: If we can get to the level where technology is so well integrated that it is no more difficult to wear than putting on clothes and it's fashionable, that’s the key. Right now technology is not fashionable. It simultaneously doesn't look as nice and the style doesn't change as rapidly as clothing does. I think those are two major limitations in wearable technology right now, along with battery life and all these other issues people are having. It has to be fashionable and the style has to change along with the trend. It has to be so easy to put on, so it's just like putting on a necklace or a shirt.

Ross Bryant: What future developments do you foresee that are unrealistic at the moment?

Tony Gaitatzis: In terms of wearable technology, I think the Holy Grail is honestly something like a wristband that measures everything. Not just an activity monitor, but one that measures blood pressure, your blood oxygen, your galvanic skin response – everything. That could be coupled with something that you can get really interesting analytics from that says, 'Hey at 2pm everyday you get really tired. You may want to take a nap around that time or drink a cup of coffee,' or 'We noticed when you run in the morning you are more relaxed at night'. That's the kind of analytics that I want to start seeing from this technology. Something that actually helps me plan my day and live a better life. I don't really care about how many steps I've taken. I want to know how to live a better life, a happier life.

  • Jon

    And this is a GOOD thing?!

  • John

    Just what everyone needs, more s**t hawked at them.

  • noes

    OH, THANK YOU! More advertising is exactly what we need. That’s sick.

  • Interesting possibility

    I think rather than having s**t hawked at people, at least it might remove some of the useless ads we get spammed with day in and day out, at least there might be some semblance of usefulness now. I’m also excited to see about some of the other opportunities they spoke about, apart from the advertising, they seem like they could be interesting and valuable.

  • Stef

    All this scares the s**t out of me…

  • fisz

    Is there any way to stop this? Because this is dangerous.

    • Jeff

      It’s honestly no more dangerous than GPS on your phone, that was pretty scary when it came out, and I’ll admit I was one of the people who was very much against my phone knowing where I was… fast forward 5 years and we all rely on our phone knowing where we are for directions, or finding when the next bus is, or finding a nice place to go for dinner in the evening.

      You can’t get much information from a few sensors on your head, it could tell if your having an anxiety attack, or experiencing extreme levels of stress, or if your concentrating, it just provides you the ability to track this and use it to try and improve your quality of life.

      Understanding how our brains works is so very important, as much so as knowing how our bodies are performing when we exercise, which you could also say is dangerous because people know the route I run in the evenings, and how tired I am at which point… but we all love sharing our running metrics online.

      I’m excited to see how this technology advances, and while I don’t think I will be one of the first adopters, I imagine that just like location sharing on cell phones, or any of the social media trends that share my fitness habits, or tell people where I check it, it could very quickly become something that is widely accepted and adopted into every day life.

  • Robotony

    Like hypnosis, it only works on intelligent people. But they are little and they can’t be influences on their decisions. These facts render the whole thing worthless!

  • Becky Sharp

    I don’t want to be all conspiracy theory here, but we are giving to the machines the keys of full, non restricted access to our brains and minds? What is going to happen when the inevitable artificial intelligence arrives and realises that its companionship on this planet is a race or nonsensical, fragile, emotional, most of the time stupid beings?

  • http://thepete.com thepete

    First, I didn’t drop $1500 to get advertisements in my eye. Second, I am simply going to pass on anything that is this invasive. Reading brainwaves? No, we stop this by not wearing the device that does this. They can already find out so much about us by how we use our smartphones – why do they have to get so greedy? I am a huge techno geek, but this is getting pretty absurd. We seem to be nearing the stop on this ride at which I step off the techno trolly.