Over the next few weeks, a company called Kernel will begin sending dozens of customers across the US a $50,000 helmet that can, crudely speaking, read their mind. Weighing about 1kg each, the helmets contain nests of sensors and other electronics that measure and analyse 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 ageing, 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 s...

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