The sleep-tracking app that alters your dreams (2021 List)

Real-life Inception: cool or creepy?

At first you might be thinking this is one creepy step in the wrong direction for mankind. But then ask yourself, what’s the harm in helping direct the content of your own dreams?

We might be about to find out.

MIT’s Targeted Dream Incubation

Leave it to MIT to make something so weird sound so…well, mundane.

The Targeted Dream Incubation (TDI) method is a technique for guiding dreams towards specific themes. Before sleeping, you choose a theme like ‘rabbits’ or ‘The Rock,’ and then, once you begin sleeping, sounds associated with this theme are used to a) remind you of the theme at targeted times and b) suspend you in early sleep stages, so you can still hear the sound even as you dream.”

Ok, color us interested. We have some daydreams that we’d like to make into night dreams.

So what’s this all about?

First, an MIT team created Dormio, a device that monitors indicators of sleep – changes in heart rate, muscle tone, and skin conductance. It’s small enough to fit in the palm of someone’s hand. Dormio pairs with a smartphone and “automatically plays audio prompts and records people’s spoken responses.” It was originally designed to gather data on what people were thinking about right before they fell asleep.

Then, a volunteer was prompted by Dormio to think about a fork. And afterward, they described “dreaming about a family that was ‘happy to see the fork. And they’re putting it in a pumpkin,’ according to [MIT research associate] Haar Horowitz’s thesis. Another participant, told to think about a tree, described ‘a tree from my childhood, from my backyard. It never asked for anything.'”

Sweet dreams

We’ve long tried to influence our dreams and to be fair, the MIT research is all much more complicated than that. But the knowledge that has come from their recent research is sure to be exploited by someone. Expect to see “dream altering devices” in the next year on Instagram.

According to MIT News:

An enhanced Dormio device has now also been built, as well as an analysis platform, streaming platform, an iOS app for audio capture and streaming, and a web app for audio capture, storage, and streaming.

Plenty of people would buy one. Why not?

Well, in a word: nightmares.

Dreams, but make it creepy

We’re not saying dont make a device that lets us influence our dreams. But let’s make sure people know that it’s unproven technology that could produce dream content that isn’t so ideal. That happy fork could just as easily be stabbing you in your next dream.

It’s also worth noting that manipulating other people’s dreams would be 100% not ok.

Further reading:

MIT, Targeted Dream Incubation

Catherine Offord, “Scientists Engineer Dreams To Understand the Sleeping Brain” (The Scientist, 2020)

Susie Neilson, “A Wearable Sleep-Tracker Designed By An MIT Team Could Give People the Power To Shape Their Own Dreams” (Business Insider, 2020)

Mindy Weisberger, “Dream-Shaping Tech From MIT Channels Suggestions Into Your Dreams” (LiveScience, 2020)

Sarah Beckmann, “A New Way To Control Experimentation With Dreams(MIT News, 2020)