A quick word with Ariel Garten

Ariel Garten is CEO of InteraXon (interaxon.ca), a Toronto-based company specializing in thought-controlled computing. Ariel’s career also includes a research position at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre, years of experience as a practicing psychotherapist, and a stint as a fashion designer featured at Toronto Fashion Week. Ariel talked with with SCOPE’s Abby Plener.

© SCOPE Magazine, 2012

SCOPE: What exactly do you mean by “thought-controlled” computing?

Garten: Thought-controlled technology allows you to connect your mind to a device and interact with it in some way—either as control, “I’m controlling a cursor with my mind,” or in a way that’s responsive: once the computer knows something about my brain state, my emotional state, it can change in response.

SCOPE: What inspires you about it?

Garten: [laughs] So much of it! The idea that we can make visible these invisible processes inside of us is very inspiring, and the idea that you can connect yourself to the world in new ways is exciting.

SCOPE: What is the hardest thing about promoting it? What are people most afraid of?

Garten: The biggest challenge is just letting people know it exists. Most people are aware of this as part of a far-flung science fiction future and they don’t realize that the future has arrived. Other people are concerned that this information might be used against them. At this point in the technology, I can’t tell your PIN number. I don’t think we ever will.

SCOPE: Where will this technology be thirty years from now?

Garten: That’s an easy thing to say: thirty years from now this will be a ubiquitous way to interact with the world. Like voice-activated technology today, thought-control will be a normal and unobtrusive way to interact with the world.

SCOPE: How will it affect how we relate to one another?

Garten: You’re going to see applications that allow you to tag data with your emotional states. When you’re looking at a picture from your sister’s wedding and your mom looks at the same picture, she can see just how thrilled you were when you were looking at the picture. You’re going to see things like brain-wave space match-making, or [how] your brainwaves are like a celebrity’s brainwaves. Those are going to be the earlier sort of gimmickier stuff but they point to the sort of meaningful social interaction layers that will be added.

SCOPE: How do you apply your expertise as a psychotherapist to your work at InteraXon?

Garten: As a psychotherapist I get to learn a whole lot about how humans interact. Our goal is to create a technology that is humanized—*a technology that gets out of the way so that you can be your best human self. Technology can be an imposition in our lives and our goal is to make technology that allows the experience of being human to flourish.

SCOPE: As a neuroscientist, do you think your awareness of your internal processes has shaped the way that you create?

Garten: That’s interesting. As I was becoming a neuroscientist and understanding the chemical interactions that create the way that we see the world, it was slightly terrifying because at a certain point everything became very reductionist. Our knowledge of neuroscience is far from complete and will never truly be reductionist because humans create variables well beyond the floating of chemicals within our brains. Understanding neuroscience gives another angle of insight into humans and becomes something to be celebrated, decoded, disambiguated, and re-ambiguated within us.

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