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The ethics of brain boosting (ox.ac.uk)
232 points by cromulent 1671 days ago | hide | past | web | 130 comments | favorite

I say throw ethics out the door. In sports the idea is to entertain and compete fairly so steroids reduce the value of sports.

Memory and math? What is this a competition? Why on earth would you not want to increase your capacity for memory and math?

The analogy is that steroids are to a mover as this thing is to an engineer. Do you really care how your mover found his strength?

There are ways to misuse this general kind of technology. You are seeing it as a cheap doodad that will stimulate a brain area that, when stimulated, improves learning. That's a good thing.

But consider that as research continues, they will probably find that other effects can be achieved by stimulating other brain areas in other ways. Perhaps they will find an area that enhances reading comprehension, or musical ability, or objectivity.

So imagine we reach a state where we have general purpose brain stimulators in most schools, that can be programmed to stimulate the appropriate part of the brain in the appropriate way for a given lesson.

Great, right?

Now consider this. One researcher has already reported that he can induce by brain stimulation a mystical or religious state, where subjects often report feeling they are in the presence of God. If the school stimulators could be programmed for this kind of stimulation, they could turn into a powerful tool for religious indoctrination.

I would not at all be surprised, if the religious inducement turns out to be true (I believe it has not been replicated yet) that they will find other deep emotional things can be induced, such as feeling of national pride and patriotism. I'm sure I don't need to say anything about the potential abuse of that if every public school has a programmable brain stimulator.

This is why we don't throw ethics out the door--we need a way to make the good aspects of this available (boosting memory and math) WITHOUT just blindly getting the bad parts.

I agree 100% with what you are talking about. And such misuses of a device like this could be dangerous if not deadly. We should absolutely regulate such a device and control its use.

When I say throw ethics out the door I specifically mean ethical questions that would pose a problem for institutions such as universities. I feel like what you are talking about falls more under the category of health rather than ethics but the line between them here is very very thin.

The ethical question comes up because these won't be free. There's already a large and widening gap between those who have and those who don't. Particularly in America, who your parents are have a very large impact on your potential as an individual -- access to schools, materials, etc.

With a widening gap, would such a device further increase the gap between those who go on to be the "have's" vs. the "have nots"? Would this introduce a more substantial barrier to entry for the upper class? What if the device cost $1000? What if it cost $1000/month?

What would happen to society if 50% or more of society was structurally unable to move up in the class system? There is unrest today (occupy protests) and the common perception is that it isn't even a big problem in the US yet. How bad would it get if people actually thought it was as bad as it is? And then what if it got worse?


Today's minor political instability is the result of bad policies blowing up in our faces, not differences in people's potential.

When a society regularly creates incentives that lead to bubbles that eventually collapse and leaves wrecked lives in its wake, people are bound to get upset.

But in a society that does not punish savers and reward foolishness, prudent people with even modest means and a bit of luck can build a nice nest egg for retirement and a rainy day.

Our politicians believe consumption is the key to prosperity and the more you subsidize consumption, the more likely it is that you will be re-elected.

But it is actually production and productivity that lead to wealth and stability, not consumption. And certainly not bubbles where hundreds of billions of dollars are wasted building things for which there is ultimately no market.

A device that truly makes people more productive (without longterm side effects, of course) would actually benefit us, not hurt us. And banning such a device would simply give the advantage to other countries to exploit.

This device works by aiding memory retention and learning. It doesn't magically universally boost your intelligence, it is more of a catalyst to learning, storage and recall. In fact, if you wanted to boost your IQ and general problem solving ability you are better served to train your short term memory e.g. via n-back training. So is access to anything facilitating such not fair?

I think most of the resistance to intelligence boosting based on fairness are just appeals to status quo. It's occurrence is inevitable and the benefits of a more educated and intelligent populace working to improve their lot via technology is worth the cost if they can bootstrap themselves into something better.

And I very much doubt that such a device will cause as much of a socioeconomic divide as access to literacy, computers, electricity, internet, clean water and iodine has on the world. Iodine deficiency can cause a loss of as much as 15 points of IQ [2]. Really though, the main issue will be when gene, protein therapies and genetic engineering become safe and better understood.

[0] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iodine_deficiency

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15734706

From an engineering perspective, the device is simple enough that it should be universally available in the US, and probably the world.

People have built DIY models for under $50. With full scale production you could build a basic model for a few dollars.

> With full scale production you could build a basic model for a few dollars.

Plus the cost of patent licenses, of course.

From what I've read I don't believe there are any patents covering the basic concepts. Additionally patents expire after 20 years, and there is definitely prior art covering the basic device going back at least to the 60s.

There may be patents covering some specific implementations, but I believe one could design a patent free device fairly easily.

Actually, the real cost would be getting the necessary FDA certifications and/or funding the lawyers that defend your right not to need a cert.

Devil's advocate: brain boosters wouldn't widen the gap significantly because socioeconomic status is not primarily determined by intelligence. That's the entire point of lack of socioeconomic mobility. Instead, the benefits of brain boosters would primarily be to raise the overall quality of life. Brain boosters have the greatest effect when used by scientists and engineers, and the resulting improvements in infrastructure, medicine, and technology serve everybody.

"Devil's advocate: brain boosters wouldn't widen the gap significantly because socioeconomic status is not primarily determined by intelligence."

These brain modifiers are not limited to such pedestrian things as increasing mere intelligence. Evidence would strongly suggest they are also capable of screwing with things like discipline, concentration, and ability to defer gratification, which definitely are connected to socioeconomic status. It's really quite difficult to predict what the effects could be.

>> socioeconomic status is not primarily determined by intelligence

maybe not status, but it's a big factor in mobility. Not saying you can't do it without, but those at the top of the class definitely move up. Scholarships, Doctors, Lawyers, Scientists, Engineers -- all make it to the top 2/5ths.

>> Brain boosters have the greatest effect when used by scientists and engineers

Exactly -- pushes those already 'on top' even higher.

Exactly -- pushes those already 'on top' even higher.

It's positive-sum. If researchers taking cognitive enhancements are able to accelerate the process of curing Alzheimer's or getting self-driving cars on the road, I'm not going to complain if they earn billions in the process.

With this device in particular I don't think that it works well enough to prompt a corporate oligarchy artificially inflating prices.

What you are talking about could indeed be a problem if there are significant developments in nano human augmentation. I personally would love it if cognitive boosters were treated as a health issue and made widely available.

looks like the people in the other thread were able to build it from radio shack parts. Can't imagine this being very expensive.

The ethical problem in my mind is that by taking brain boosting meds you are taking a health risk.

So for instance, say the people that take these meds end up living 5 years less on average due to side effects of the drugs but are for instance able to read 2 times fast, remember thing better and only need 5 hours of sleep a day. Naturally because they're on average better they will get better jobs, more promotions and so on. So the people that choose not to trade in years of their life end up getting screwed (in relative terms) and (taken to the extreme - say 50 years down the road) will be second class citizens.

To a very minor degree this happens with caffeen, but when you put things in the equation like amphetamines and provigil it gets a lot scarier.

If I was taking amphetamines and provigil in college I know for certain I would have graduated with a lot higher GPA and I probably would have done a lot more in college. But what would have been the cost? I don't know.. and know one really can say; I wasn't willing to take that gamble. Why should the person that was willing to gamble his health get rewarded for it?

The ethical problem in my mind is that by working long hours you are taking a health risk.

So for instance, say the people who work long hours end up more stressed and less healthy, but produce for instance 50% more value. Naturally because they're on average better they will get better jobs, mor epromotions and so on. So the people that choose not to trade in quality of life end up getting screwed (in relative terms) and will be second class citizens.

By working hard and taking risks you might outcompete some people. I don't see why this is an ethical problem.

You're sort of equating working long hours with quality of life and general health which I don't think is a fair comparison, and even if it is, you're overstating it

First of all, I don't think quality of life necessarily translates to years spent living, or at least that's very hard to quantify.

For the Quality of Life vs. Long Hours:

Firs of all, it's also a weak comparison. You can work at a job 8 hours a day and hate it while the guy next to you does it for 12 hours a day and loves it. You might end up ruining your quality of life and he won't be. So you can't quantify your quality of life with time spent at work.

But even considering that there is probably a strong correlation; fortunately there is also a very natural balancing mechanism. If work long hours is really ruining your life then that's a direct incentive for you to not do it. You have a constant pressure to not overwork yourself because you it psychologically make you feel horrible and no one wants to feel horrible. So things sorta tend to balance themselves out. Even if you look at environments/careers were people really push themselves due to competitiveness in the long term I don't think they end up having shorter or worse lives.

Sure there are masochists that work 12 hours a day, hate it, but do it for the promotion; but even for them I think in their minds they don't have a horrible life. The prospect of the promotion prolly keeps them happy and keeps them going.

Now compare that with taking a pill or zapping your brain: If you take a pill and you get dementia 40 years later then you're trading in current gains for future pains. You're not getting constant negative feedback to hold you back. So to keep up with your peers you and all the people around you will be popping every pill possible because otherwise you drop out of the race.

Now since there are no brakes to the process and everyone is trashing their bodies to make it to the top your society eventually ends up with a group of super smart pill-poppers and brain zappers and they become all the CEO and PhDs but live to only 40 before their brains are fried and then you've got the rest that live to 90 and clean toilets.

You might end up ruining your quality of life and he won't be. So you can't quantify your quality of life with time spent at work.

I'm not quantifying it, I'm merely pointing out that being a workaholic harms many people. Personally, I work hard doing stuff I love. But I do raise the bar for people who don't enjoy it, and who are forced to do so in order to compete.

If you take a pill and you get dementia 40 years later then you're trading in current gains for future pains.

And if you work your ass off and get high blood pressure/etc 40 years later, you are doing the same thing.

At most, it seems like a matter of degree and uncertainty. The costs/benefits of hard work are reasonably well known, whereas brain pills are not (yet).

There's a sad real-world example of people who are willing to shorten their lives in order to earn more money: the sulphur miners of East Java ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12301421 ). The motivations are a bit different in this case - the miners are doing this to be in a little less poverty - but the net effect I think is to make things a bit harder for the people who choose to take lower-paying jobs and not to put their lives at such risk (since the miners who have more money presumably get first dibs on available food to purchase).

As I noted in another post this device looks like more of a memory and learning aid rather than targeting IQ. My lay hypothesis is that this device works by increasing the baseline of current flow at target synapses - kind of like waking the guard of a gate to a vigilant state. Basically, it enhances long term potentiation. I expect it will have a very low addictive profile and improper use will probably be toxic in a similar mechanism as glutamate overload. No worse than people who consume alchohol regularly do to themselves. Probably much safer. High currents might cause seizures though.

i read many papers and not seizures report i supouse tah is becsuse AC in pulsed or AC stimulation (pulsed-tDCS,CES) it maybe diffrent

in some NASA research use 5mA

Your thoughts on caffience, amphetamines, and indeed this device are wholly correct. It is somewhat saddening...

These are more similar than you have presented. Athletes compete for contracts at the highest levels. If some athletes use performance enhancing drugs, they will have an edge and pressure will be put on those who do not want to use performance enhancing drugs, for any number of reasons.

On the intellectual side of things, you have students competing for scholarships, grants, and research placements. You have people competing for jobs in high-tech industries, and then competing with their colleagues for promotions, pay raises, and bonuses. I'm sure you can come up with more examples. The same problem then exists with devices or drugs which purport to improve learning ability. I could take dextroamphetamine every day. My productivity could go through the roof and I could soak up information like a sponge, easily putting within my grasp that which I strive to accomplish every day. Yet I do not want to do this, for many reasons.

Maybe the device in the article lacks the side effects of regular amphetamine use. It therefore would not be on the same level as nootropic drugs, but saying we should 'throw ethics out the door' is quite a leap.

But the point of those two industries is different. On the STEM side of things why wouldn't you want the kid that will give you the most bang for your buck? Whats the point of holding ourselves back just to create a fair playing field for everyone else. If we can get 100 engineers with brain boosters to do the job of 1000 engineers why not?

At the same time athletes surve a different purpose. They entertain. The perception of a fair playing field is much more important to a bottom line than the actual performance of a person. No one wants to watch a machine pitch a perfect pitch every time. Likewise no one wants to watch a juiced up player hit a home run every time. Theres no spectacle in that.

Except the "kid that will give you the most bang for your buck" might be aware he's slightly below the best in the pile when not more artificially stimulated than the competition. Artificial stimulants might deliver a payload rather more disturbing than cumulative intelligence gain when applied systematically over a period in an intelligence arms race: we know a few other ways of stimulating certain aspects of the mind that aren't entirely benign.

As for entertainment, I'd probably not object to watching steroid-pumped athletes if I was confident they wouldn't end up with anger-management and biological gender disorders afterwards. Same applies to stimulating the brain with electrodes, except we don't know where/whether that might go wrong yet. Ben Johnson wasn't competing to run the world; but at the risk of invoking Godwin's law, the track record of those using stimulants to help them run the world isn't great.

What if you're using engineers to get better at some zero-sum game, e.g. high frequency trading, SEO or developing better weapons? When your competitors start using brain-boosted engineers too, you're back to square one, except everyone's wasting resources on brain-boosting and cannot afford to stop.

Likewise no one wants to watch a juiced up player hit a home run every time. Theres no spectacle in that.

Be careful with such sweeping statements. I think it'd be cool as hell to watch athletic competitions that were really just proxies for various performance-enhancing labs to show off their latest, greatest stuff. I don't watch the Tour de France now, for instance, but if all of those riders were openly doping and tweaking to expand their limits in new and interesting ways, I probably would.

Pro athletes already make sacrifices that the rest of us would consider horrific, wrecking their health and shortening their lifespans for the sake of a few years of glory and attention. What's suggested here is absolutely nothing new.

Sounds like ambitions and greed have blurred together.

well, it's a slippery dialog. I think most people don't really care that much about pro athletes taking EPO, but the crackdowns started when it filtered down to widespread use in high school athletes of HGH and designer steroids. At one point the argument that spending $1,000s of dollars to test one athlete at the Olympic games was a waste of money.

But, well, when i read this, I must say, i have people close to me who would have access to this technology and understand the risks, and I thought, hmm.

This is a classic arms race. Like states giving tax breaks to invent corporations to move. Just like baseball we are probably all better off with some rules.

Considering anyone who knows which end of a soldering iron is hot could build one of these with access to the schematic, it's going to be impossible to enforce any limits on its use.

I found that section on 'cheating' completely bizarre. The reason something like a cheat-sheet counts as cheating is not that it's easier, it's that you haven't really learned it. The moral issue comes from the idea that the exam is meant to give an idea of how well you know something, and if you cheat you can get a good result without really knowing the subject matter.

If you are actually learning, and the effect is not temporary, then it's obviously not cheating, no matter how easy it is.

All the classes I took at MIT let students bring a "cheat sheet" to exams. Additionally, many exams were completely open-book. I know that this is neither here nor there, but I felt compelled to comment on the notion that if you haven't memorized something, that you haven't learned it. This idea is all too prevalent.

Absolutely. If the exam is trying to assess how you would do in an environment where you are free to look things up (like the real world most of the time), then that makes good sense. The point generalises to this:

Exams are an attempt to measure something about you. Cheating is an attempt to make the result of the exam better than the reality of the thing the exam is trying to measure. Morally this puts it in the same class as lying and other deception.

So whether carrying information into the exam is cheating or not, depends on the exam. If it's trying to measure what you can remember, it's cheating. Otherwise, it may not be.

If this technology helps you to actually learn, then you aren't just increasing the result of the exam, you're actually increasing the thing the exam is trying to measure.

Memorization is not learning. Neither is a subset of the other.

So if I understand well, they stumbled upon a method for brain boosting that seems very promising and yet, could be very affordable and also very easily made at home or from a DIY kit. They emphasize how good it would be for humanity, how very bad side-effects their limited studies have shown, etc. Enough to make anyone wonder why this isn't on the market yet.

Only now, they're questioning the ethics of letting people know about it, and they do that... by talking about it?

I believe it would now be more dangerous and irresponsible to keep things secret, the cat's out of the bag. People who read such an article with the details provided, only have enough information to have an approximate understanding of how this thing works, but it won't stop them from experimenting. Already, I see instructions being posted on this very thread.

It's a reverse psychology marketing ploy. Those guys need funding and are looking into commercial applications which this article is designed to invoke interest for. I think those claims of performance increases when applied to healthy brains can safely be assumed to be highly questionable.

People who read such an article with the details provided, only have enough information to have an approximate understanding of how this thing works, but it won't stop them from experimenting. Already, I see instructions being posted on this very thread.

Yeah, I'd be shocked if half the population of HN don't have one of these things inside a week. Somebody should call Jameco and Mouser, etc., and ask if they see a spike in sales of certain electronic components in the next few days!

I probably have most of the parts needed in my parts-box already, so I might just give it a try myself. Nothing like a little reckless self-experimentation...

I've built one for ~ $30 in parts from Radio Shack using an LM317 current limiter. There is an odd bootstrapping problem involved with tDCS devices: you need to have the device connected to comprehend the instructions! Researchers speak of anodal and cathodal stimulation, and the convention is that + is anodal and - is cathodal. So far so good--at least this comports with vacuum tube conventions, which will be familiar to all readers of Hacker News. Researchers speak of anodal stimulation of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. The tDCS device has to be connected (with the positive connection over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortext) to even begin to comprehend that left means left from the perspective of the subject, but right from the perspective of a viewer viewing the subject's face. The right negative contact can go over the right eyebrow (but there are other protocols). This is one of the clearest: http://www.ncrrn.org/papers/symposium_tdcs/hamilton_tdcs.pdf.

As you can see, there is an inviolable convention among researchers not to unambiguously mark the anode + contact on the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the cathode - contact over the subject's right eyebrow. Instead, what we see on the third slide is a cartoon drawing of a subject in which two contacts are labeled "active" and "reference". There is an arrow leading from the active contact to the reference contact labeled "anodal" and another arrow from the reference contact labeled "cathodal". This refers to an ancient convention in electronics, in which current was assumed to flow from the anode to the cathode, even though electrons flow from the cathode to the anode. The literature is replete with such helpful diagrams. One would like a completely unambiguous statement: the anode is the positive connection, and it is secured to the left side of the subject's scalp; the cathode is the negative connection, and it secured over the subject's right eyebrow. Or one of the eight combinations possible by arbitrarily switching anode with cathode, positive with negative, and left with right. But I have been unable to locate a statement in the literature that would condescend to so direct and simple a description.

Here is another article with a diagram showing node placement for tDCS. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165017306.... Note that the anode is placed over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and the cathode is placed on the forehead. That beats the anodal and cathodal arrows of the previous diagram. What we still don't have is the identification of + with anodal and - with cathodal. And so one must continue searching through the literature--which should be done in any case--until one comes to something approximating a consensus on node placement and the meaning of anodal and cathodal versus positive and negative.

Finally, here's a compilation from a less than unimpeachable source: http://www.drmueller-healthpsychology.com/tDCS.html. The author misreads 1mA as one microamp. That's one milliamp. But we do get a straightforward statement about node placement from Fregni, F., Boggio, P., Nitsche, M., et al. (2006). Letters to the Editor: Treatment of major depression with transcranial direct current stimulation. Bipolar Disorders, 8:203-205. This is confirmed in http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22031874, though you have to know that anode means positive and cathode means negative.

I should say that in my initial reckless period of self-experimentation, I managed to induce phosphenes by accident -- blue white flashes in the entire visual field, blanking out everything else. Both contacts were in the supraorbital region. I ceased my experiments for a while and returned to the literature.

So, after reading this account, I felt compelled to wire up my current-limited power supply at 1mA and ranges from 6-9V using saline-soaked paper towels.

Got some mild phosphenes during the first try by putting the anode too far forward -- although not in my entire visual field like the author, instead just at the top, and the phosphenes stopped once the electrode was securely connected.

OP, what duration do you use? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17940759 indicates that "short-term" is <1s and "long-term" is 10m. It's hard to say objectively, but I think after about 1m I can feel increased concentration and wakefulness.

Initially 5 min, increased to 20 min. Phosphenes are not uncommon if the anode is too far forward and if the circuit is intermittent. Ramping the current up and down is a good idea. I would only use a battery powered supply myself. The video http://www.jove.com/video/2744/electrode-positioning-and-mon... mentioned above is excellent, incidentally (wooden acting aside).

Interesting video -- watching it made me realize that my ad-hoc "electrodes" were too small (2x2 cm), explaining the mild skin irritation. I wonder if it's common also to have a temporary, very moderate blurred vision in the right eye (only during stimulation)? It would make sense considering the cathode inhibits depolarization there. I'll keep reading.

Thanks for posting, this has been an interesting experience.

How many times per day?

It's people like you that make me glad I'm alive and on the internet. Thank you.

No problem! This sort of thing is what Hacker News (should be) all about :)

for 1mA 35cm2 50uA/cm2 i use 30 min (L-DLPFC and right orbital)

for 2mA 9cm2 in higher current density work much faster efect is precivable after few second (aplication 3min) bud ther is a problem - skin iritation and is little itchi (early expediments) in publication is recomandet current density under 60uA/cm there was much more but still under tishue damge limit


IIRC, I had it memorized by thinking that "anions" move towards the "anode" ; since "anions" are negative ("anion" = A Negative ION :D ), then the "anode" must be positive... I'm not a EE major, so I could be wrong.

This page has some schematics and the results of his own experimentation: http://brmlab.cz/project/brain_hacking/tdcs (not sure how legit it is).

Can you post your schematics and instructions?

wow these guys http://brmlab.cz/ are doing some really cool stuff

Hi im leader of brainhacking project in Brmlab

It's a pity I'm not in Prague anymore, but when I come back I'll surely come check it out :)

nice work with the thinking cap - are you still using it? can you comment anecdotally on effects? i'm hacking one together after seeing this post :)

I used it again yesterday after a long time. I do not use it too often because I have other methods to achieve the same effect using the mental techniques. I use it only if there is headache and it is too difficult to concentrate to mental techniques.

Effect very depends on start state mostly on levels of stress hormons in the body.Here some early tests http://brmlab.cz/project/brain_hacking/tdcs (part tests) I planed to do more test (i made aroud 50 , but the dont documted),currently working on other projects but plans to come back and improve it (mostly the electrode position and current density).

-------- If you want to use higher current use 2x9V baterry ,there must be enough volts to equalize the resistance changes. ( resitence electodes+head is about 2-5kOhm)

In Physical Chemistry / Galvanic cells, the anode is defined to be the location where the oxidation reaction occurs, and the cathode is where the reduction reaction takes place. It has nothing to do with cations/anions since cations can be generated by both chemistries.

This was the source of much confusion in biochem (electrophoresis) for many students because negative charges migrate to the anode.

Can you comment on the results of using such a home-made device?

This is anecdotal, and I have not followed rigorously the experimental protocols of any of the papers I have cited, nor have I subjected myself to tests of retention, calculation or reaction time. Nevertheless, I believe the device has enabled me to achieve a higher karma score on Hacker News. I have authored a paper on mathematical logic after a period of previously drafting notes, and have had success with the integration of large-scale multi-disciplinary environmental systems models. Finally I believe the cognitive gains my unlicensed, home-made DIY tDCS device have enabled are sufficient to overcome the bias that otherwise would have left me unemployed (cf. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/us/bay-area-technology-pro...).

To be honest, I wish you had disconnected the device before writing your original comment, because it is a bit hard to follow :-)

But really, if you are capable of building such a device, wouldn't that make you very employable to begin with?

You must live in some crazy world where people are employed for their abilities.

It sounds like you have to be wearing the device in order to benefit from it. Do you work from home while "plugged in"? Or, can you just use it while thinking about a tough problem or while learning something new and then when it's turned off still have the insights/new knowledge you gained?

for me is effect noticable after 6hours most powerfull is hour after aplicaton

1 stuty found residual effect after month

When did you build the device? It seems like you must have known about this for some time since you say it helped you get a job. Meanwhile, the article on Oxford's site was just posted today. How did you find out about it?

I started reading the literature on tDCS in November, 2010. There have been articles in the popular science press on tDCS at least since then. I was motivated to build the device after reading an article in Scientific American from November 2011, one year later: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=amping-up-b... And now I must get back to work...

i iknow tDCS about 4years and test it about 3 , but eraly test it vas only 9volt batery , potentiomether(I must regulate current manualy) and 2 electrode from watch cover

Whoa, you actually built a brain-boosting machine in your garage? Who are you? :p

Someone should bring this to market, or at least make a DIY kit available. It sounds super fascinating to experiment with (at super low levels). Perhaps someone from Make is reading this -- if so, this would be a great project to feature!

these guys make one: http://soterixmedical.com/tdcs.php

but... "CAUTION: Investigational Device. Federal (or United States) law limits device to investigational use."

edit: also check out this video for how to do it: http://www.jove.com/video/2744/electrode-positioning-and-mon...

Reading your post, it occurred to me that its tone sounds very similar to things I've written when I had had a lot of caffeine, or was on methylphenidate ("Ritalin") for a long time. In my case, prolonged methylphenidate use induced mild psychosis, a known effect that is common in long-term users of the pharmacokinetically similar amphetamine family, which also dramatically improves learning performance.

Thus extrapolating, I wonder if tDCS use might also induce psychosis.

Going off methylphenidate on the weekends ameliorated the psychotic effects, but some of the psychosis-induced beliefs persisted for quite a while.

I was 9.

maybe yes overstlimulation can boost data procesing in brain in extreme cases start hyperasociative states where is conect information than not normali linked.

there is only small border between geniality(new ideas) and madnes

I've built one for ~ $30 in parts from Radio Shack using an LM317 current limiter.

But the data sheet for the LM317 says the minimum operating current is 2.0 mA, yet the amount delivered to the brain should be 1 mA. How did it work?

It requires a 2 mA to operate; that doesn't mean you're forced to actually draw 2 mA from the output.

According to http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00763230 , 2 mA is quite safe and actually more effective than 1 mA.


Sorry if I'm being dense, but where is that 2 mA measured? It only has three pins: input, output, and reference. There's no ground pin. The reference presumably draws almost no current, as drawing significant current would affect the measurement. So the current on the input & output must be the same, and the same as what we're feeding into the electrodes. No? Does this just mean you can't use the simple circuit composed entirely of the LM317 and a single resistor between the output pin and the reference?

Sorry my mistake, I was talking without looking at the datasheet.

From the datasheet

>all quiescent operating current is returned to the output terminal. This imposes the requirement for a minimum load current. If the load current is less than this minimum, the output voltage will rise.

I've used an LM317 drawing less than 2mA, so I assumed it was possible (in hindsight I must have used the solution, below).

The solution is very simple however, make a separate parallel circuit that will draw at least 2mA. This can be accomplished just by placing a resistor of appropriate value between the Vout and ground.

i get from LM317 min 0,7mA and not get lower

different types (small,large case) of LM317 havemaybe different parametrs

Would you consider explaining how to build one?

ChristianMarks said in one of his comments that he believes the device has allowed him to overcome a bias in the valley against hiring older engineers. Why would he want to reveal the details of a device that if widely used could erode his advantage?

At first I wasn't going to mention this (lest it become the reason he doesn't share the details), but then I realized, here's a smart guy who has a device that makes him even smarter, so I figure he probably already knows. :)

Perhaps it's because most people aren't purely self interested.

I just found this and...I'm curious about how well it works.

Really, really curious.


I would absolutely fund a kickstarter project for this.

please, someone do this.

a quick search brought me to this: http://openeeg.sourceforge.net/ (don't do it!)

EEG is the opposite of TDCS. EEG listens for brain waves, tdcs runs a current through your skull.

Well, I'm curious, can you quantify the lift from this vs, say, a healthy but sedentary person going on a regular exercise program, eating salmon and vegetables every day, taking piano lessons, and conventional ways of boosting alertness and memory?

And phosphenes.. oh my.

Drawing such a comparison would be difficult.

But I would contend that before you try something like tDCS, you probably should try to optimize other easier and much more beneficial parameters such as sleep,diet,immunity,vitamin dosage,supplemental dosage etc.

In the end a pocket tDCS device can really come in handy when something (GEB for example :)) gets really hard to understand.Its all about using it in moderation.

mental techniques there i using have the same effect like tDCS , but echniques requre trening and more time.For me is betst way combination of tDCS and this techniques , depennd of specific situation.

Related, I have recently been thinking about Star Trek economics. I don't know much about Star Trek, except that they don't use money. Yet there seem to be differences in "wealth", at least in that some get to be commanders of huge space vessels, whereas others are confined to low level jobs on said vessels.

Presumably there is the notion of "only ability counts", but what happens once genetic engineering levels everybody's abilities? It seems to me from then on the logical conclusion is that in a Star Trek universe mankind would become a super organism spawning individuals according to need. The individual would necessarily be transcended.

Star Trek was a meritocratic socialist economy with a World Government, of which we really only see the military/starfleet aspect of everything. There was a hierarchy of jobs based on performance, and there was never any mention of genetic discrimination as far as I know.


This would lead to the banning of genetic engineering on Earth by the mid-22nd century, even research which could be used to cure critical illnesses. This ban was implemented because of the general fear of creating more tyrants such as Khan. It was also felt that parents would feel compelled to have their children genetically engineered, especially if "enhanced" individuals are allowed to compete in normal society.


By the 24th century, the United Federation of Planets allowed limited use of genetic engineering to correct existing genetically-related medical conditions. Persons known to be genetically enhanced, however, were not allowed to serve in Starfleet, and were especially banned from practicing medicine.

Looking at the actual research it seems the improvements were typically on the order of 10%. So this isn't going to turn Homer Simpson into Einstein.

I wonder how this compares over the long term to just working an extra 20 minutes per day, or even just drinking a cup of coffee.

At 10% it's also worth comparing to a placebo control group - I have the suspicion that the results of such a study could annihilate the "improvement" claim entirely if an independent study were to be conducted on this.

"The currents of 1–2 mA make it easier for neurons in these brain regions to fire. "

wouldn't this just make you do connections in your reasoning that you usually wouldn't do (maybe for a good reason) (is this why this method is ethically questionable?)

The question I think is, is that "good reason" a reason that was relevant as our brains were evolving millions of years ago, but is irrelevant now?

Our brains evolved in a way which maximized reproductive potential, and while having strong cognitive abilities was clearly favored to an extent, there was a constant tradeoff between larger brains and food/energy input. Now that we don't have the same critical food shortages, we can set our own objective functions. Ex, now most people would probably choose a brain with +50 iq points which required an extra 1000 kcals a day, but a few tens of thousands of years ago, those requirements would probably have been fatal...

"The idea of a simple, cheap and widely available device that could boost brain function sounds too good to be true."

Like books, for example? Or computers (not that cheap, but widely available).

I am not holding my breath on that device... My usual line of thinking: if it is so easy to enhance brain functions, why hasn't nature done so herself? (Another one where that applies is the super memory mice).

Nature has widely enhanced brain functions. There is variation in intelligence. But since traits are selected for against usefulness and not toward an abstract goal or destination you don't see much variation above or beyond that needed to promote the trait. Even today most people do not need much more abstract reasoning power than the median to survive and reproduce. (By "today" I mean within the last 10,000 years or so.)

But in normal healthy people we see enough variation in abstract reasoning to have a profound effect on their performance in our brand spanking new technological environment of the last couple of thousand years; less than an eyeblink in evolutionary terms. And not just in competitive terms, but in absolute ability. A lot of that advancement can be simply be attributed to better nutrition and better mental and language models. I have little trouble believing that fiddling and tuning up the brain's electrical environment might might have some comparatively striking effects. (I can also see it possible to do great damage as well)

Nature isn't very smart and is very slow. For instance, a mutation that gives 10% fitness advantage (which is pretty much unheard of as far as I know) would only rise to fixation 20% of the time. And in humanity it would take 454 generations to fixate in the population. Since most mutations don't carry such large advantages by themselves, you have to wait for dependent mutations to take place. A second mutation might indeed give 10% advantage but only in the presence of some prior mutation having already fixated, which may itself only give 0.1% advantage.

There are a lot of low-hanging fruits nature has missed because nature only cares about how many copies of genes there are, it doesn't care about human goals. Evolution is a poor optimizer for what it does, it has no optimization for what we want done.

Slight correction: nature doesn't care about the number of copies of a gene. All that matters is existence/survival.

I have to verify your other numbers sometime, because I am pretty sure I have heard of cases where mutations took hold faster (lactose tolerance perhaps?)

It's expensive (calorically). As it is that little engine sunk in a bone casing behind your eyes consumes calories like a ravaged soul.

> if it is so easy to enhance brain functions, why hasn't nature done so herself?

A good question to raise, but it has a lot of plausible answers. For example, maybe having better cognitive ability causes people to spend more time doing science and less time procreating/looking after their offspring.

Maybe the nature is enhancing our brains (in evolutionary terms), but there might be devices or techniques to accelerate this process.

...if it is so easy to enhance brain functions, why hasn't nature done so herself?

If nature is a woman (rather than a collection of stochastic processes), then she is a strong argument against letting women into the same building as a computer.

Most biological organisms are designed incredibly badly. The body is full of spaghetti code, duplicate functionality, dead code that still causes bugs, and systems that evolved from a completely different purpose and didn't get the full rewrite they needed.

The nature methodology makes waterfall look like a perfect process:

1) Make a random change.

2) If conversions go up, commit. Otherwise revert.

If nature is a woman (rather than a collection of stochastic processes), then she is a strong argument against letting women into the same building as a computer.

This along with the following paragraph come across as somewhat misogynistic. I'm sure you didn't mean it to. Saying "person" instead of "women" would have avoided that.

I liked your description of nature's methodology as a development process.

The meat of my post was a factual counterpoint to Tichy's, and it amused me to make a stylistic counterpoint as well (namely mocking his Gaia-worshipping tone, which anthropomorphizes a random process).

So yes, I did mean to make it sound somewhat mysogynistic.

Most biological organisms are designed incredibly badly. The body is full of spaghetti code, duplicate functionality, dead code that still causes bugs, and systems that evolved from a completely different purpose and didn't get the full rewrite they needed.

You know, I hear tech people saying stuff like this all the time but the question I would ask is: designed badly compared to what? I mean, if you're comparing to software code made by humans (is there any other kind?) then I think biological systems work pretty damn well. The type of systems that humans write code for are utterly trivial compared to what biology has to deal with -- and we STILL have all the anti-patterns and problems you mentioned with respect to biology. Until human beings can write code of comparable complexity to life that lasts millions of years (forget about billions) I think you should show the woman some respect. :-)

You know, I hear tech people saying stuff like this all the time but the question I would ask is: designed badly compared to what?

Compared to what it would look like if a human designed it. I took a course in math biology, and learned how a few of these subsystems work. A particular gene regulatory network I studied (can't recall the details, it was >5 years ago) looked like the following:

    B, C = (False, False)
    A = get_input()
    if A:
        B = True
    if B:
        C = True
    if C:
There were literally 2 pointless intermediary steps which evolution was pretty much incapable of removing. It was also unnecessary - in some different type of bacteria, the network fit the obvious pattern (I'd give a citation, but my math bio textbook is in a storage compartment halfway around the world from me):

    A = get_input()
    if A:
You see nonsense like this all over biology.

The debate over intelligent design is clearly over. If you want to argue for creationism, you need to argue that god is a drooling retard who starts a project, forgets what he is doing, and uses the pieces to finish a completely different task.

Not saying there isn't waste in nature, but in your A,B,C example, at least there are three more things were nature could break something if necessary. It can not only change the input to A, it can also change if A: B = true to if A: B = false, likewise for if B: C = true.

Just saying, that kind of redundancy might be an advantage for evolution, smoothing it's path.

Wish they showed something more statistical. As in, by how much did people's memory skills really improve?

That whole article doesn't really even explain how it works either, just some dabbling around "ethics" (really?). Just seems quite vague and unfocussed.

Really exciting prospect if it works though!

I think an article named "The ethics of..." is meant to "dabble around ethics" rather than explaining the technology. There must be other articles/papers about that.

Yes, but because it's such a weird/new piece of technology, I think an explanation of how well it actually works would be a good compliment to the article, there's no point in talking about ethics if it doesn't actually work.

How well it _currently_ works is irrelevant from ethics point of view. Ethics are only concerned with how it could potentially be used. That's important to think about, so that the researchers know what direction to go and how to conduct their research so that it wont cause problems in the future.

"we need to control the release of the genie"

Has never, and will never be done.

Oh, and I will believe all the people who whine about the virtue of the natural, un-augmented human, and about how unfair augmentation is, when they start advocating that athletes compete naked.

Any good link describing the research? Ethics considerations are irrelevant for technology that isn't yet proven

The story (blog article) refers to this short essay:


which mentions "The long-lasting effects of TDCS, which can persist for up to 2 months" with a reference to this paper:


This last paper is quite interesting, as arguments can (will...) be based off of it posing that tDCS does provide a long-term benefit. Unfortunately, the gain (in response time and accuracy) over a sham tDCS (e.g., placebo) is quite modest -- 15% with an error bar of 10% for response time, and 5% with an error bar of 5% for accuracy... Check the Figure 4 on page 5.

I actually wrote about tDCS, back when the University of New Mexico published some findings back in April 2011: http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/84232-boost-your-brains-p...

It is said there was some very promising early results, enough to prompt them to consult with ethic experts.

Agreed. Discussing ethics when no one even fully understands what the technology is seems rather pointless.

The fallacy here is "no one understands what the technology is". The research folks think they understand it enough to ask the question about the downsides.

I continue to scan research in this area because I know that at some point there will be a recreational drug equivalent that runs off batteries. That is going to destroy a lot of wealth in the underground drug business. That will cause some violent changes in society.

As for TDCS I expect it to move along to the point where this may be like a calculator, not "required" but an accelerator for people with ones.

Really? If we waited until nuclear explosions were proven to consider ethical implications we might be in a very different place. Ethical considerations don't need to stop scientific advancement, but they always must be an ongoing part of the process.

That said, I'm interested in a maker kit.

Yes you're right. I'm just tired of sensationalist stories far ahead of real technology. Another tiring example is pretty much any study of human-robot interaction. Mention sex and robots in the same article and you'll instantly get ridiculous attention.

If I'm understanding correctly, the device makes certain neuron pathways more likely to fire. What happens if, for example, you enable this device every time you enter a potentially frustrating situation? Would you become frustrated more easily?

This research sounds very similar to the research done by Dr. Bob Beck on his "Brain Tuner" in 1983. Bob Beck had some other radical beliefs such as blood electrification that he claimed could cure all sorts of maladies. I wonder how much the transcranial direct current stimulation differs from Bob Beck's Brain Tuner. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRx0Luz86Uc&feature=relat...

Interesting juxtapose.. if the #3 story about the 2011 Adderall /ritalin shortage drops off the front page, read that too.

This can be built easily by connecting 9v battery, a potentiometer, and a multimeter on current mode in series. The potentiometer basically controls the current and the multimeter displays how much you are putting in yourself.

I'm curious on what the benefits of this is but also scared of the side effects if there are any.

Anyone else tried this?

I was kind of hoping this would be about accessing an external hard disk from my brain. I can't count the number of times I wished I could've saved a few seconds by not having to look everything up on the internet.

I've heard of transcranial magnetic stimulation, but not direct current stimulation. Can anyone give us a rundown of the difference in results?

Okay, but where can I buy one of these devices for under $100?

You can't, yet.

There should be a site where one could subscribe to new tech discoveries that are likely to be marketed soon* (i.e. this one) to get an email when it happens.

* by soon i mean the next 5 years or so.

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