Neurotechnology as urban interfaces

Undark has an intriguing opinion article about the current trend of tech companies interested in neuroscience. Neuroscience research has produced various technologies capable of measuring human brain activity, e.g. magnetic resonance imaging, implanted electrode systems, and electroencephalograms (EEGs). Biohackers started experimenting with EEGs for meditation purposes. This has trickled through to the consumer tech market, with companies like Meta, Valve, Snap acquiring neuroscience startups.

Of course, tech companies do this because “with enough information about individuals and their habits, developers can divine, with fine-tooth specificity, how a certain person will respond to certain advertisements.”

What I find interesting about this, is how technologically mediated neurofeedback acts as a new type of interface between people’s mental experience and their physical environment. In urban theory, there has always been an interest in the relationship between inner experiences and outside stimuli. Think of Simmel’s urbanite who adopts a blasé attitude as a way of protecting themselves from overstimulation. Or Lynch and his cognitive maps that serve to alleviate people’s fear of getting lost. Such theories envision specific conceptual interfaces between inside and outside worlds (the filter, the map). The promise of neurotech is, I guess, that it offers a direct unmediated access to people’s inner mind and the outside world. Moreover, as a second thought, the directionality is inverted: mental experience is no longer a reaction to outside stimuli, it now drives behavior and, by extension, the possible design of urban environment environments.

The wider implications may also be that this exacerbates the already existing tendencies of our technologically mediated urban life to become subjected to the logics of the 3 Cs: control, consumption, cocooning. Totaling control by states and/or businesses, pervasive tracking and datafication of consumer preferences, and reinforcing personalized sameness over differences are ready to infer.

Finally, I believe we need to understand this potential rise of neurotech in urban space through the lens of ‘affect’: the realtime measurement of people’s affects and emotional states in relation to urban space is a key factor for understanding current technologically mediated urban life.

Link to article on Undark>>

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