Jake Toth

8 karmaJoined Mar 2022


Hi Luca,

That sounds really interesting, it is good to hear from others in this space! I have connected with you on LinkedIn, hopefully, we can find a way to work on this together in the future.

Great question, I think it's largely because the implementation wouldn't be as simple as it may first appear so relatively deep pockets are required. Also, the amount of researchers in this field is pretty low (low thousands?). It's still much simpler than invasive stimulation (e.g. Neuralink), but not something that can be implemented overnight.

The easiest headset to initially implement would use electrical stimulation, and there are devices on the market that use electrical stimulation, for example, this one for depression:

The issue is that we all have different shaped heads, skull thickness, shapes of brain etc and this can lead to up to a 100% difference in the electric field in the brain https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1935861X19304115. To phrase that differently, because our brains and heads are different giving two people the same stimulation can mean one has improved intelligence and the other does not. But luckily there is a way around this, namely taking an MRI scan of the user's head, simulating brain stimulation, then personalising the stimulation to their head and brain. This essentially gets rid of much of this variability between people by accounting for the different shape of the head and brain. The issue of course is that we can't go and have an MRI scan when we buy this headset, it's expensive time consuming and doesn't scale across the population. This is where the field has sat for a few years, have personalised stimulation at great expense or don't and have it and get poor results. Most research groups cannot afford to put every participant through an MRI, so most research on this topic has poor results. 

Instead, a prospective startup needs to find a way to personalise the stimulation without an MRI scan. One way is to use AI to generate an MRI scan based on the shape of the persons head, their demographics and maybe even their DNA  (see https://developer.nvidia.com/blog/kings-college-london-accelerates-synthetic-brain-3d-image-creation-using-ai-models-powered-by-cambridge-1-supercomputer/?ncid=so-twit-448517#cid=ix11_so-twit_en-us). The other way is to create a model where you give it someones head shape, demographics and / or aspects of their DNA and it tells you what kind of stimulation would work for them given its training in simulation. Early versions of this already exist! For example, this paper takes head circumference and can tell you how much to stimulate reducing the inter-person variability by around 25%.

So a company would have to create these models, validate them against people that have gone through MRI scans. Create the physical hardware, ideally track the position of the stimulation electrodes relative to the head (which is an engineering challenge in itself). Package this all up nicely, run a large scale study to prove it enhances aspects of intelligence and improves productivity then ship it. Then on a rolling basis perform more studies on enhancing different aspects of intelligence then ship that as hardware/software updates. It's a big undertaking.  


Thanks Aaron, I will make sure to include this information but hopefully this will help in the meantime:

Non-invasive brain stimulation is any method of causing brain activity to change without surgery. This can include using electrodes to apply a small amount of current to the scalp with a headset like this:

Creating a magnetic field in the brain with a device like this:

Or by using ultrasound waves with a device that looks something like the image here:

The electrical and magnetic stimulation methods are well established with decades of research covering tens of thousands of participants and proven safety profiles. The magnetic method is too bulky for a consumer headset, and the electrical method has issues with reliability across subjects (my research plays a small part in helping to address this.) 

The ultrasound method is more new, but with the promise of much more accurate stimulation. Without going too deep into the technical challenges that remain I think an electrical stimulation based headset that increases intelligence significantly could be available to consumers within 5 years. With an ultrasound-based headset superseding that once the research is more firmly established. 

Hello everyone,
I'm a PhD student using non-invasive brain stimulation to enhance human attention. I'm convinced that using non-invasive brain stimulation to enhance human intelligence has massive potential in improving productivity across the global economy. 

Unlike its productivity-enhancing counterparts (invasive brain stimulation and artificial intelligence) it is vastly underfunded, making it an ideal target for effective altruism!

Compared to current AI human intelligence is already general, so enhancing it can be applied to all aspects of society. Intelligence enhancement itself would be self-improving, meaning it's plausible that as people that would on intelligence get more intelligent themselves, there would be a positive feedback loop of intelligence leading to increasingly accelerated productivity.

Finally, compared to pharmaceutical and invasive methods it is known to be safe and would require minimal regulatory intervention. This would mean an initial product offering could be created sooner, and iterations on the technology could happen faster. Ultimately leading to productivity improvement happening sooner, and improving faster.

I plan to write a full post on this soon, but just thought I would introduce myself and open the floor to feedback/criticism.

Thanks for running this competition, looks like there are plenty of great ideas to choose from!
I submitted my entry on improving human intelligence through non-invasive brain stimulation through the Google form, it said my entry was recorded but I got no email confirmation.

Has anyone else submitted through the Google Form, and did they also get no email confirmation?

Does anyone know when the winners of the competition will be announced?