To Our Health–Book Extract
NOTE: This is an extract from our chapter on Healthcare in The Fourth Transformation: Why AR &AI Will Change Everything. Feedback welcome.
In the fourth transformation, people will be leading healthier and longer lives. Of course, AR/VR will play roles in this, as will other enhanced technologies that tap directly into the human brain and nanotech devices that will swim around our bodies hunting down cancer cells and other malicious attackers. In addition, when things inside our bodies become irreparably broken, we will bypass them with external solutions that connect to the brain.
This is a chapter that deals with personal and emotional issues related to healthcare, but also, keeps in mind that it is a huge industry. In the US alone, healthcare is about a $3 trillion-dollar business annually. Developers of fourth transformation technologies are pushing to disrupt many giant incumbents and from where we sit, they are in an outstanding position to succeed. Not only are these disruptors about to relieve a great deal of human suffering, they are looking at financially reaping huge profits in the process.
Mindmaze, a Swiss company founded by CEO Tej Tadi, a neurologist with an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, seems to us to be among the most promising of the emerging disruptors in both areas. Founded in 2011 as an academic research project, by 2016, when it started rolling out products, it had raised over $100 million and was valued at over $1 billion.
When we talked with Tadi, Mindmaze had launched products in two categories that seemed quite diverse: healthcare and MR games. In talking with him, we soon came to understand both the synergy and the potential. For gamers, Mindmaze uses its heavily patented technology to let players in headsets move things around and zap zombies with brainwaves rather than hand controls. Not only does it free up the hands, it enhances the experience by making it faster—faster than any other body part, including the eyes.
Everything we just said, is also relevant to how Mindmaze uses brainwaves and headsets to treat amputees, stroke survivors, victims of irreparable brain and spinal trauma, Parkinson’s patients, Cerebral Palsey patients, and those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Patients using Mindmaze show significantly faster recovery speeds. The healthcare headsets are more elaborate than those used by gamers. Webbing goes over the skull and contains 32 sensors which monitor brain response to VR stimuli.
There are many other test cases related to VR games and reducing pain. Another significant one involves reducing the horrific pain of burn victims. Scientists at the University of Washington are using VR games including SnowWorld from Firsthand Technology to reduce the pain of burns, wounds and other medical procedures. The game itself is an exploration of an icy canyon where headset wearers encounter wooly mammoths, penguins, landslides, and more. Patients float through the canyon, lobbing snowballs at what they see. Clinical studies of the part of the brain where pain is generated, show a dramatic reduction in both pain and anxiety. Some patients said they did not even realize the medical procedure had taken place—without medication– because they became so immersed in the game.
UCSF Oakland’s Benioff Children’s Hospital uses an almost identical approach with VR headsets for children hit by sickle cell anemia. It is not a curable disease just yet, but at least the incredible pain suffered by children can be relieved by headset shows of dolphins swimming in placid waters. Likewise, Expedia, the online travel company helps children suffering from cancer at St. Jude’s hospital in San Francisco get to travel to wherever they wish via VR.
Mindmaze has not gamified treatments to that extent, but it plans to use it more as it focuses mostly on amputees, paralysis and stroke victims. Of course, it cannot restore limbs lost by the world’s 1o million amputees, or restore sensation to the two percent of the population that has suffered permanent spinal cord and nerve injuries, but it can reduce serious pain and accelerate whatever recovery is possible. For example, many amputees suffer from phantom pain, caused by their brains trying to move limbs that are no longer there. It can take a long time for the brain to fully understand the loss and subsequently for the pain to subside. Sometimes it never does.
Mindmaze takes a fourth transformation approach that employs MR glasses, motion capture – a technology used in animated filmmaking where an actor’s motions are precisely mimicked by a computer-generated animation – and a technique called mirroring. The patient moves her existing right arm and through the headset, she sees an avatar that mirrors the motion, raising the virtual left arm. The Mindmaze glasses send the image to the brain’s primary motor cortex, which is fooled into believing the severed limb is still there, thus eliminating the phantom pain.
MindMaze has opened offices worldwide. One in San Francisco is close to two veteran hospitals who have started testing the amputation program. Tadi told us that MindMaze will develop software for each disorder, but the strategy will continue to use headsets, neural sensors, motion tracking and machine learning to trick brains and benefit patients. The benefits will vary depending on the medical issues.
There are 15 million stroke victims worldwide each year. It is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Of those who do survive, the speed of recovery is vital. The longer a patient remains in the hospital, the lower the chance of full recovery.
Using the same technology tools, Mindmaze uses MR to teach patients to start using limbs again, and is succeeding generally faster than traditional physical therapy. Tadi maintains that Mindmaze teaches patients to move more naturally than physical therapy does. These factors get patients home and functioning faster than has previously been likely. Hospitals rent Mindmaze systems for about $2500 a month. When patients go home, they rent scaled down versions for a few hundred dollars monthly.
We asked Tadi why Mindmaze started in two areas as diverse as amputees and gaming. Reminding us of our earlier observation that the value of fun should not be underestimated, he told us that all Mindmaze health programs were built on gamification models. In games, he sees an immediate opportunity. The company’s MindLeap headsets are lighter, more attractive, and less expensive versions of the medical devices, because they don’t need to explore the going on’s of the central cortex or read the user’s thoughts as the medical version does.
Mindmaze will partner with existing game platforms, such as Xbox or Sony PlayStation VR, where gamers will enjoy versions of existing popular titles. The difference being they will use brainwaves rather than hand controls.
The games and therapy may blur at times with users not knowing or caring which they are doing. At a San Francisco Gamer conference, Mindmaze introduced the headsets as Neurogoggles. A player made flames shoot from his fingers by brainwave which is cool and fun, but, as Tadi explained, such exercises will also be used to help schizophrenics control their dangerous mood swings.
About 1.1 percent of the world’s population is diagnosed as schizophrenic. In the U.S., treatment costs run about $100 billion annually and there is no known cure. Tadi said that he thinks Mindmaze will be able to cure schizophrenia over time, perhaps in the next ten years.
He told us that Mindmaze is also talking to players in the automotive and defense industries. He believes that autonomous cars may be ready for production, but most governments won’t allow fully self-driving cars for many years. He believes that Mindmaze offers the transitional solution: brainwave override with Mindmaze headsets.
For obvious reasons, he declined to comment about his conversations with the defense industry.
This is clearly technology that will change the world. We talked earlier about Eyefluence and how eyes are the fastest moving part of the human body—with the exception of the brain. The brain knows when you are going to move even before you move, giving Mindmaze and other neural technology players the ability to bring a kind of Vulcan mind meld between people and technology into reality.