The San Francisco startup is developing an optical imaging system—sufficiently compact to fit inside a skull cap, wand, or bandage—that scatters and captures near-infrared light inside our bodies to create holograms that reveal our occluded selves. The devices could diagnose cancers as well as cardiovascular or other diseases. But because the wavelength of near-infrared light is smaller than a micron, smaller than the smallest neuron, Jepsen believes the resolution of the technology is fine enough to make thoughts visible to.
the company’s promise depended on combining these elements: proof of the entire body’s translucence; holographic techniques, some dating to the 1960s; and Asian silicon manufacturing, which can make new chip architectures into commercial products. Openwater may be less than two years old, but Jepsen has been thinking about a holographic scanner for decades. She is uniquely suited to the challenge. Her early research was in holography; she led display development at Intel, Google X, and Facebook Oculus; and she has shipped billions of dollars of chips.
The idea derives from Jack Gallant, a cognitive neuroscientist at UC Berkeley, who decoded movies shown to subjects in a functional MRI machine by scanning the oxygenated blood in their brains. The images Gallant recovered are blurry, because the resolution of fMRI is comparatively coarse. Holography would not only see blood better but capture the electrochemical pulses of the neurons themselves.