The founder and CEO of Cerebian is changing the way humans interact with technology
Imagine being able to communicate telepathically with a friend, or a police officer navigating a colleague through a dangerous situation without saying a word. Imagine your phone creating a playlist based on your mood, without needing to touch a screen. Imagine a teacher being able to monitor the attention levels, engagement and understanding of her students in real time without using invasive technology.
Kareem Ayyad ‘12 is not only making all this possible — he’s already made it happen.
Ayyad is the founder and CEO of Cerebian, a Brain-Computer Interface (BCI), which, in his words, is “a wearable device that measures signals from the brain and translates them into commands, actions or insights.” Sensors along the jaw and head detect the intention to speak — rather than private thoughts themselves — as signals can be measured more than 80 milliseconds before any muscle movement to open the mouth occurs.
Cerebian’s applications are practically endless. It can enable those without the ability to speak to communicate in spoken language, protect private conversations, augment the mouse and keyboard in computer gameplay, provide daily brain analytics, and more. Earlier this year, a pilot program was successfully conducted with Toronto law enforcement, who used the technology to safely and silently navigate tactical situations, and generate cognitive analytics for officers on the front line. The device is now market-ready, and customers can begin to purchase it early this summer. Ayyad is eventually planning to license out the technology for use in smartphones, headsets, VR glasses and other possible devices.
Just 27 years old, Ayyad created Cerebian largely by himself. Passionate about tech and the brain for as long as he can remember, Ayyad has honed his coding skills over the last 15 years, even while completing his law degree at City University London. Despite the seeming gulf between law and BCI development, Ayyad believes his legal study has hugely benefitted his work.
“I believe that law is a frame of mind,” he says. “In law school, you learn the way of thinking, the analytical thinking, to approach a goal within a framework of rules, limitations or restrictions.”
Ayyad’s creative and tenacious approach served him well as he faced many barriers while developing Cerebian. To support his work, he took several jobs on the side in fields that would teach him different aspects of running a company, including business development, digital marketing and public relations. He worked almost non-stop, first honing his expertise in the domain of BCIs, then pivoting to develop Cerebian. Creating a functioning prototype took Ayyad under a year.
The incredible speed with which Ayyad developed Cerebian suggests that huge changes in tech are coming — and soon. Cerebian’s main competitors, Facebook’s CTRL-Labs and Elon Musk’s Neuralink (a device implanted into the user’s brain) expect to have working human prototypes in the next few years, while Cerebian will be available for customers this summer. If Cerebian’s consumer pilot and launch is successful, Ayyad will turn his focus in the next few years to his lifelong aspiration: creating a dream recorder.
“Imagine that people who are dreaming can dream in the same world together — you get an extra eight hours in the day,” he says. “Imagine that when you go to sleep you can learn a new skill, you can have a meeting, you can do whatever you want in a virtual world. The science is there, it’s just a matter of the funds required and four to five years of work.”
A running current behind Ayyad’s work is his concern with prioritizing and protecting users, rather than treating them as a potential goldmine of private data. Because Cerebian measures the intention to speak rather than a person’s direct thoughts, privacy is maintained. Additionally, as a wearable device, Cerebian can be removed at any time. The FDA considers Cerebian to be an input device, similar to a mouse or keyboard, but with the power to revolutionize the way humans understand and use our own brains.
“Computers are a superpower for us now,” he says. “The better this technology gets, the better humans will become.”