Why your future playlists might be curated based on your brainwaves rather than your listening history

We’re used to curating our music library according to personal taste and suggestions based on what we’ve listened to in the past. But with neuroscience now able to customise music based on your brainwaves, we find out if our listening taste is better defined by our body chemistry

So much of technology these days is about the ability to tailor it our experiences; to personalise and curate the way in which we receive information and manage outcomes. For the most part, however, such personalisation is based on machine algorithms, predicting from a series of pre-defined categories that are designed to decipher people’s tastes. Each week, for example, Spotify will provide users with playlists based on what they have previously listened to, but I think it’s safe to say that their algorithm can be somewhat hit and miss.

However, developing neuroscience could provide a far truer personalisation, as music is instead tailored to your brain chemistry. By attuning music to different brain frequencies, it’s possible to improve your sleep quality, increase your productivity and cope with anxiety. Going forward, it may be that curation of music will be designed around the brain frequencies necessary for certain activities rather than the genres of old.

And it may not even be that long from now: companies are exploring the possibility of turning the approach into a consumer app, making this a potential normality in the not-too-distant future.

Entrainment and oscillations

Different frequencies in the brain can trigger different mental states. For example, resonating with alpha waves may assist with relaxation. Using music tied into these frequencies is part of increasing the effectiveness of therapies aimed at behavioural performance and neuronal entrainment – the synchronisation of neuronal oscillations with an external perceived rhythm – perhaps due to the brain’s expectation of more complex auditory input.

A study led by acoustic engineering expert Deirdre Bolger observed: “[The] use of [musical] stimuli is not only possible, but also advisable, insofar as it seems to magnify the level of entrainment”.

The neural oscillations that entrainment is aimed at play a big part in the various operations of your brain, acting as the communicating process between the brain regions that compose a neuronal network (sets of brain regions that interact for specific cognitive processes). While the level of alteration such oscillations would have to reach in order for you to consciously perceive a change is fairly high, understanding the patterns behind specific cognitive processes can allow for researchers to try and influence them.

Cranial Curation

The question becomes then, should we be looking to these more physiological processes to guide our listening rather than subjective taste? If something like Spotify tells you to listen to the Dead Kennedys because you’ve been digging into old school punk, should we have another app telling us to listen to a certain composition because we need to focus on getting a dissertation or presentation done?

I consider this as is an additional method, which does indeed treat music as something more than just entertainment

“You’ve got Spotify looking at your choices of song and providing suggestions on things you selected before now,” Eduardo Miranda, a professor in computer music at Plymouth University, told Quartz. “If you have something that is more connected to your own biology, it’s another way of providing services that may be more personalised.”

When we spoke to Miranda, however, he did emphasise that “this should not be taken as a substitute for the ways in which musical libraries are curated today.

“I consider this as is an additional method, which does indeed treat music as something more than just entertainment; for example, for medical or therapeutic purposes,” added Miranda.

Miranda is a musician and composer, as well as Head of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research at Plymouth. In the past, he has used an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine to create complex string arrangements, and is now looking to create music based off the way in which rhythm affects brain activity.

His work, and that of the others in the field, suggests that the path for entrainment-type music will be to continue to develop as a tool alongside the entertainment factor of standard music.

Crossover potential

It’s worth considering of course that, in many ways, music is already a therapeutic tool, both professionally and personally used. So while the kind of music based off brain patterns may see primary use as a greater extension of that purpose, is there not a chance that “regular” musicians may begin to take into account those same patterns to incorporate into their work?

“The more musicians understand how the brain listens to music, the more informed they will be when they create,” reasons Miranda. “If you know that certain brain waves correlate to a certain mood, and if you know that the brain to produces those brain waves when it listens to a certain musical rhythms, well, there is no reason not to use this knowledge somehow, right?

“But let me tell you something very important: people are very different from each other. Our brains are very different; it’s like our fingerprints. Therefore, there isn’t such a thing as a piece of music that will resonate to everyone’s beta waves. Some people might, but not all. This is good news!”

Perhaps don’t go expecting a Nicki Minaj verse scientifically composed to trigger the neuronal network for focus, then. However, at the same time, don’t count out the idea that music may become more tightly intertwined with the actual cognitive processes, on the side of both research and entertainment.

One of the founders at Brain.fm, a site providing entrainment music designed to elicit various mental states, Junaid Kalmadi, told Quartz that producers had reached out to the site to learn how they could produce music more in key with a target audience.

If we currently think that a song may be aimed at its target audience based off lyrical themes, or a particular sound that’s currently finding popularity, it may be that the future instead sees those songs at least somewhat designed off what may hit certain biological cues.

It is a field still somewhat in its infancy, but one that could well change the very role of the music we listen to.

Adding stem cells to the brains of mice “slowed or reversed” ageing

Albert Einstein College of Medicine scientists “slowed or reversed” ageing in mice by injecting stem cells into their brains.

The study, published online in the journal Nature, saw the scientists implant stem cells into mice’s hypothalamus, which caused molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs) to be released.

The miRNA molecules were then extracted from the hypothalamic stem cells and injected into the cerebrospinal fluid of two groups of mice: middle-aged mice whose hypothalamic stem cells had been destroyed and normal middle-aged mice.

This treatment significantly slowed aging in both groups of animals as measured by tissue analysis and behavioural testing that involved assessing changes in the animals’ muscle endurance, coordination, social behaviour and cognitive ability.

“Our research shows that the number of hypothalamic neural stem cells naturally declines over the life of the animal, and this decline accelerates aging,” said senior author Dongsheng Cai, M.D., Ph.D., professor of molecular pharmacology at Einstein.

“But we also found that the effects of this loss are not irreversible. By replenishing these stem cells or the molecules they produce, it’s possible to slow and even reverse various aspects of aging throughout the body.”

To reach the conclusion that stem cells in the hypothalamus held the key to aging, the scientists first looked at the fate cells in the hypothalamus as healthy mice got older.

The number of hypothalamic stem cells began to diminish when the mice reached about 10 months, which is several months before the usual signs of aging start appearing. “By old age—about two years of age in mice—most of those cells were gone,” said Dr. Cai.

Images courtesy of the Mayo Clinic.

The researchers next wanted to learn whether this progressive loss of stem cells was actually causing aging and was not just associated with it.

To do this, the scientists observed what happened when they selectively disrupted the hypothalamic stem cells in middle-aged mice.

“This disruption greatly accelerated aging compared with control mice, and those animals with disrupted stem cells died earlier than normal,” said Dr. Cai.

Finally, to work out whther adding stem cells to the hypothalamus counteracted ageing, the scientists injected hypothalamic stem cells into the brains of middle-aged mice whose stem cells had been destroyed as well as into the brains of normal old mice.

In both groups of animals, the treatment slowed or reversed various measures of aging.

The scientists are now trying to identify the particular populations of microRNAs that are responsible for the anti-aging effects seen in mice, which is perhaps the first step toward slowing the aging process and successfully treating age-related diseases in humans.

Self-driving delivery cars coming to UK roads by 2018

A driverless vehicle designed to deliver goods to UK homes is set to take to the road next year after the successful conclusion of an equity crowdfunding campaign.

Developed by engineers at The University of Aberystwyth-based startup The Academy of Robotics, the vehicle, Kar-Go, is road-legal, and capable of driving on roads without any specific markings without human intervention.

Kar-Go has successfully raised £321,000 through Crowdcube – 107% of its goal – meaning the company now has the funds to build its first commercially ready vehicles. This amount will also, according to William Sachiti, Academy of Robotics founder and CEO, be matched by “one of the largest tech companies” in the world.

Images courtesy of Academy of Robotics

The Academy of Robotics has already built and tested a prototype version of Kar-Go, and is working with UK car manufacturer Pilgrim to produce the fully street-legal version.

The duo has already gained legal approval from the UK government’s Centre for Autonomous Vehicles, meaning the cars will be able to immediately operate on UK roads once built.

The aim of Kar-Go is to partner with suppliers of everyday consumer goods to significantly reduce the cost of deliveries, and the company’s goal in this area is ambitious: Sachiti believes Kar-Go could reduce delivery costs by as much as 98%.

Whether companies go for the offering remains to be seen, but the company says it is in early stage discussions with several of the largest fast-moving consumer goods companies in Europe, which would likely include the corporations behind some of the most recognisable brands found in UK supermarkets.

Introducing Kar-go Autonomous Delivery from Academy of Robotics on Vimeo.

While some will be sceptical, Sachiti is keen to drive the company to success, and already has an impressive track record in future-focused business development. He previously founded Clever Bins – the solar powered digital advertising bins found in many of the nation’s cities – and digital concierge service MyCityVenue – now part of SecretEscapes.

“As a CEO, it is one of my primary duties to make sure Kar-go remains a fantastic investment, this can only be achieved by our team producing spectacular results. We can’t wait to show the world what we produce,” he said.

“We have a stellar team who are excited to have begun working on what we believe will probably be the best autonomous delivery vehicle in the world. For instance, our multi-award winning lead vehicle designer is part of the World Championship winning Brabham Formula One design team, and also spent years as a Design Engineer at McLaren.”