Bryan Johnson: Kernel Brain-Computer Interfaces | Lex Fridman Podcast #186 | Summary and Q&A

May 24, 2021
Lex Fridman Podcast
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Bryan Johnson: Kernel Brain-Computer Interfaces | Lex Fridman Podcast #186


Founder of Kernel, Brian Johnson, discusses the possibilities and challenges of measuring and analyzing brain activity data, including its potential to revolutionize fields such as mental health and personal improvement.

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Questions & Answers

Q: Can brain data collection and analysis revolutionize the field of mental health?

Brain data collection and analysis hold immense potential for revolutionizing the field of mental health. By quantifying and understanding brain activity patterns, researchers and clinicians can gain insights into the mechanisms behind mental health conditions, develop personalized treatment plans, and monitor the effectiveness of interventions.

Q: How can brain data help in personal improvement and self-awareness?

Brain data can provide individuals with valuable insights into their own cognitive processes, emotional states, and overall mental well-being. By tracking brain activity patterns, individuals can identify patterns of thoughts and behaviors, make informed decisions about their lifestyle choices, and develop strategies to enhance focus, relaxation, and overall cognitive performance.

Q: What are the challenges in using brain data for scientific research?

One of the challenges in using brain data for scientific research is the complexity and variability of brain activity. Analyzing and interpreting brain data requires sophisticated algorithms and statistical models, as well as large-scale data sets. Additionally, ensuring the ethical collection and use of brain data raises important considerations regarding privacy, informed consent, and data security.

Q: How might brain data be used in the future to understand human cognition?

Brain data has the potential to transform our understanding of human cognition by providing unprecedented insights into the complex workings of the brain. By collecting and analyzing high-quality brain data at scale, researchers can uncover new principles of neural functioning, develop models of cognitive processes, and explore the relationships between brain activity and behavior. This deeper understanding of human cognition could lead to advancements in various fields, from education and neuroengineering to artificial intelligence and human-machine interfaces.


In this conversation with Brian Johnson, the founder of Kernel, a company that develops brain monitoring devices, they discuss the potential and possibilities of brain interfaces. They touch upon the comfort and ease of the devices, as well as the immense amount of data that can be collected from the brain. They also explore the idea of using this data for personal understanding and improvement, as well as for scientific research and discovery. The conversation delves into the importance of quantifying and understanding cognition and the potential impact on various aspects of life, including health, work, and digital experiences.

Questions & Answers

Q: What technology does Kernel use to measure and record brain activity?

Kernel uses a technology called spectroscopy, which is similar to wearables on the wrist that use light for functional brain imaging. By measuring blood oxygenation levels, it captures the activation patterns of the entire cortex in real-time.

Q: How many sensors are there on the Kernel flow device?

There are 52 modules in the Kernel flow device, with each module containing one laser and six sensors. In total, there are over a thousand channels that sample brain activity.

Q: How did they ensure comfort in wearing the Kernel flow device?

The mechanical design of the device accommodates most adult heads, including those with larger heads. The rubber band-like structure molds to the shape of the head, making it surprisingly comfortable to wear.

Q: What are some potential applications of brain interface data?

The data collected from brain interfaces opens up a universe of possibilities, including personal health insights, understanding cognitive processes, and improving digital experiences. Additionally, it can revolutionize scientific research by enabling large-scale studies of human behavior and cognition.

Q: How can brain interface data be used to improve personal understanding and well-being?

Brain interface data can provide individuals with a deeper understanding of themselves, capturing aspects of their experience that may not be evident through self-introspection. It can help identify patterns, optimize behaviors, and make more informed decisions about health, focus, and overall well-being.

Q: How can brain interface data be utilized in the digital world?

By coupling brain interface data with digital experiences, it is possible to enhance the quality of digital interactions. For example, a podcast app could use brain data to detect user engagement, boredom, or drowsiness and adjust the listening experience accordingly. The data can also be used to improve attention allocation in various digital contexts, such as social media or news consumption.

Q: Can brain interface data contribute to scientific research and discovery?

Brain interface data has the potential to advance scientific understanding of cognition at a population scale. By collecting data from many individuals, researchers can gain insights into human thought and behavior on a broader level. It has the ability to expand our knowledge of the brain and its functions.

Q: What is the approach of Kernel in discovering impactful applications for brain interface technology?

Instead of trying to come up with specific ideas, Kernel focuses on creating a platform that enables discovery through human experimentation. By populating the system with devices and giving people the opportunity to explore and experiment, a multitude of valuable applications can emerge organically.

Q: How can brain interface data contribute to goal alignment within individuals?

Brain interface data can facilitate goal alignment within individuals by providing a comprehensive view of their physical and cognitive states. By analyzing the data and identifying patterns, individuals can make more informed decisions and align their goals with their biological and cognitive needs, leading to better health and overall well-being.

Q: Do they worry about the survival of intelligent life amidst advancements in technology?

While there may be concerns about the potential risks associated with technology and artificial intelligence, Brian emphasizes that the current generation has a unique opportunity to evolve into entirely novel forms of consciousness. Instead of succumbing to fear, he believes that the exploration and aspiration towards these possibilities should be the defining goal of intelligent life on Earth.


Brain interfaces have the potential to revolutionize personal understanding, scientific research, and digital experiences. By quantifying and analyzing brain activity data, individuals can gain new insights into their physical and cognitive states, leading to improved well-being and decision making. Additionally, brain interface data can contribute to advancements in scientific understanding by enabling large-scale studies of human cognition and behavior. The possibilities for impactful applications are vast, and the focus should be on creating a platform for experimentation and discovery within the field. While there may be concerns about the future of intelligent life and technology, the current generation has the opportunity to explore and evolve into new forms of consciousness, making it a defining aspiration for humanity.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Brian Johnson introduces Kernel and its development of brain activity monitoring devices.

  • The conversation explores the potential benefits of collecting high-bandwidth brain data.

  • Brian discusses the possibilities of using brain data for personal improvement, scientific research, and the future of human cognition.

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