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Johnson’s doctors say that, according to their tests, he’s made 43 the new 30.

Johnson’s doctors say that, according to their tests, he’s made 43 the new 30.

Photographer: Damien Maloney for Bloomberg Businessweek
Businessweek
The Big Take

Can a $110 Million Helmet Unlock the Secrets of the Mind?

Bryan Johnson, who made a fortune in online payment processing, has spent a lot of it building hardware meant to radically expand science’s understanding of the brain’s aging and effects on the body.

Over the next few weeks, a company called Kernel will begin sending dozens of customers across the U.S. a $50,000 helmet that can, crudely speaking, read their mind. Weighing a couple of pounds each, the helmets contain nests of sensors and other electronics that measure and analyze a brain’s electrical impulses and blood flow at the speed of thought, providing a window into how the organ responds to the world. The basic technology has been around for years, but it’s usually found in room-size machines that can cost millions of dollars and require patients to sit still in a clinical setting.

The promise of a leagues-more-affordable technology that anyone can wear and walk around with is, well, mind-bending. Excited researchers anticipate using the helmets to gain insight into brain aging, mental disorders, concussions, strokes, and the mechanics behind previously metaphysical experiences such as meditation and psychedelic trips. “To make progress on all the fronts that we need to as a society, we have to bring the brain online,” says Bryan Johnson, who’s spent more than five years and raised about $110 million—half of it his own money—to develop the helmets.