Neuromarketing firm NeuroFocus made big news when they unveiled their new Mynd dry, wireless, EEG headset at the recent 2011 ARF conference in New York City. I wasn’t able to make it to the conference to see Mynd in action for myself, but I did get a chance to speak with NeuroFocus CEO AK Pradeep by phone.
From the press release:
Mynd has undergone rigorous development and testing procedures for three years. The standards set for the device to meet included performance levels as accurate and reliable as gel-based, wired EEG systems used in clinical settings for a host of neurological disorders, as well as high durability and serviceability.
Key highlights of Mynd include:
- Full-brain coverage with dense-array EEG (electroencephalographic) sensors. Full-brain measurement is the universal neuroscientific standard applied in the world’s premier laboratories and educational institutions.
- Within seconds of slipping the user-friendly headset on, a consumer’s brainwave activity is captured across the full cortex.
- Wireless transmission of brainwave signals; capable of interfacing with any Bluetooth-enabled mobile communications device.
- Dry “smart” electrodes (sensors), eliminating the use of gels and enhancing signal quality by introducing novel technological breakthroughs.
- Enables first full-brain coverage home panels for market research.
- Comfortable, lightweight, aesthetically pleasing modular design with easily-replaceable sensors.
What Can Mynd Really Do?
My first question for Dr. Pradeep was, “when you say ‘home panels’, you mean subjects will volunteer to wear the headset at home? What will be measured, and how?”
Dr. Pradeep explained how the technology will allow users to wear the headset at home and it will be able to communicate with other devices such as your cable box, your computer, your iPhone or iPad. This way, collection of brainwave activity will be synced with various activities such as watching a certain television program, commercial, interaction with a website, and so on.
But what about other activities that don’t involve electronic devices? Sure, as Pradeep describes, one could report that they were about to eat Y brand of cereal, and the Mynd headset could begin collecting brain-wave data after the report, but how could that data be synced properly with actions? Dr. Pradeep explained that in the next version there will be a video camera installed so that activity can be synced with data coming from the brain.
Many critics of neuromarketing claim that insights gathered from in-lab research are flawed because it can’t account for real world context. If this technology works as well as Pradeep claims, this would push neuromarketing research to a whole new level, removing lab environment bias.
But it’s not just marketing that can benefit from this technology. Neurofocus began developing the technology out of a desire to deepen neuromarketing research, but as the technology emerged the team had a moment of, “wait a minute” as the implications for other applications arose. This led Neurofocus to develop Mynd as an open platform for which other applications can be built. Already TOBI is working with the technology to invent new ways to help brain injury patients.
Dr. Pradeep was most passionate when he spoke about the possibilities for other applications of Mynd – from medical, to entertainment, to self-help. “Imagine you are a mother of a child who has seizures. If you were in another room, the device could notify you so you could run in.” He listed other potential uses, such as the applications that could be built for an iPad that could allow a user to play games using brain-waves, or to see and interact with their own brain activity. “This opens up a whole new world” he said. His passion was contagious as he continued to list the possibilities.
What the Critics Say
Given the incredible scalability of the platform, the potential for good, and the seemingly endless opportunities of this type of device, it is almost surprising that there could be criticism. Yet there’s been plenty. I asked Dr. Pradeep to respond to some of his critics and their claims.
In response to critics who say that dry EEG has not in the past been able to collect good data, Dr. Pradeep stressed that Mynd has been in development for three years. Neurofocus didn’t want to release anything until it could attain “medical grade”, which as Pradeep points out means that “it has to collect good data. Period. End of story.”
We didn’t speak directly about criticism that Neurofocus has opted out of a neuromarketing standards study by ARF, but you can read other coverage of that here. Elsewhere on the web, as part of a group, someone pointed out that Dr. Pradeep had compared himself to John Lennon or Steve Jobs. And I think that probably hints at another reason NeuroFocus has opted out of an outside standards study. In talking to Dr. Pradeep it is immediately clear how warm and passionate he is about his work, and though he didn’t say it directly, our whole conversation was shaped by Pradeep’s passion for his vision. I imagine that yes, similar to Lennon or Jobs, Dr. Pradeep is clear on what he wants to do, and that vision can seem uncompromising at times.
In response to general critical response to neuromarketing as “mind control” Pradeep confirmed that there is no “buy button” and you can’t make people do something they really don’t want to do. We also talked about how marketing generally has become a dirty word, but marketing is something we all do. “We market our best selves to our significant other, we market knowledge to children in teaching…” and so on. This is a point I make all the time — it isn’t marketing that’s a problem, it’s intent. If a company is selling a product that is harmful or doesn’t work, and they use marketing tactics to persuade, convince, and even lie, then the problem is with the intent of the company, not with marketing. “We’ve always been marketing,” Pradeep says, “but when you quantify it and give a name to it, people don’t like that.”
However, in as much as any marketing can persuade, NeuroFocus takes a clear stand on who they won’t work for. Dr. Pradeep feels strongly that marketing should not be involved in politics so NeuroFocus refuses any work related to politics or campaigning. Additionally, Pradeep feels children should be free to explore and grow without being bombarded by marketing persuasion they can’t understand so NeuroFocus won’t run neuromarketing tests on children.
Neuromarketing is largely misunderstood to have much more power than it does, resulting in some tending toward a knee-jerk reaction to the idea of such deep investigation into their motivations, decision making, and unconscious response to marketing creatives. Dr. Pradeep’s response is quite the opposite.
That’s why I started this work. It offers me the deepest insight into myself. Why do I do what I do? Why do I make the decisions I make? And so on. It is a deep journey into myself. Some people are uncomfortable with such deep introspection because it makes them feel vulnerable.