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Jonathan Berent remembers the day he decided to found NextSense, a startup making revolutionary earbuds that read brain waves and could help treat conditions like epilepsy, insomnia, and depression. At the time, Berent was working at X, Google’s iconic “moonshot factory” — a laboratory for developing ambitious, sci-fi-sounding solutions to the world’s problems. Like earbuds that read your brain waves.
The day was October 18, 2019, when Berent was in a meeting with Google’s chief economist, discussing whether reading people’s brain waves would infringe on their privacy. The path that led him to that meeting was circuitous: For the better part of a decade, Berent had directed a sales team for GoogleAds, where he cultivated his interest in Eastern philosophy and turned his office into a “wisdom library” with a yoga mat for meditation. He also nurtured a long-running fascination with sleep, and when he caught wind of research that suggested you could monitor and possibly improve sleep patterns through EEG [electroencephalogram] earbuds, he took the concept to X. He wound up working on a project called Heimdallr, which explored whether human brains could control computers. That’s what landed him in the chief economist’s office.