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The empires of the future are the empires of the mind.
Why do humans see colors? For years the leading hypothesis was that color vision evolved to help us spot nutritious fruits and vegetation in the forest. But in 2006, evolutionary neurobiologist Mark Changizi and colleagues proposed that color vision evolved to perceive oxygenation and hemoglobin variations in skin in order to detect social cues, emotions and the states of our friends or enemies. Just think about the reddening and whitening of the face called blushing and blanching. They elicit distinct physiological reactions that would be impossible without color vision.
A few years ago Changizi left Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he was professor to co-found 2AI Labs with Dr. Tim Barber. Their Boise, Idaho-based research institute, funded via technology spin-offs coming out of their work, aimed at solving foundational problems in cognitive science and artificial intelligence. The move allowed Changizi to continue to conduct academic work with more intellectual freedom and less of a reliance on grants.
Last summer the team at 2AI developed three pairs of glasses called O2Amps based on Changizi’s color vision theory. By visually enhancing oxygenated blood and blood pooling, the lenses amplify the social cues that allow users to perceive emotions more clearly.
The eyewear is being used for a number of innovative applications. The first is medical. The lenses enhance vasculature beneath skin, helping nurses identify veins; they also amplify trauma and bruising that might be invisible to the naked eye. Many hospitals are putting the O2Amps through trials, and seeing positive results. The eyewear is also potentially useful for police and security officers– imagine if a TSA agent could more easily perceive nervousness– as well as poker players.