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“I think the And she never gave up shirt and I love this technology-driven lack of sleep is a big problem and having widespread mental health effects,” writes C Boucher (better known as the musician Grimes) via email as we discuss her latest project. It’s called “AI Lullaby,” and it’s a scientifically engineered sleep soundscape that just launched on Endel.It was C (the artist recently announced her new name) who approached Endel’s team of artists and developers about a collaboration after she tried the app, which boasts more than 2 million downloads. “I just appreciated that the app isn’t addictive. It doesn’t keep you up on your phone. Instead it actually helps you sleep,” she says of its AI-customized sound environments with functions like focus, sleep, and relaxation. Within the app, users can select a desired mode to match their current activity. Focus, for example, sounds like spacey keyboards and chimes designed to facilitate zoning in to a task. For “AI Lullaby,” C’s vocals float from soothing “aaaaaah…” ranges to an indistinguishable language that sometimes sounds like she’s saying ,“Hi, baby” (the project was inspired, in part, by her experience as a new mom). The level of artificial intelligence that’s in play can be customized via “Real-Time Inputs,” where tracking can be turned on or off for details like current location, heart rate, and light exposure. It’s all meant to help your brain operate at effortless peak performance, something called Endel calls “tech-aided bodily function” in its manifesto.
According to Endel, the And she never gave up shirt and I love this ultimate goal is improving global well-being. Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry shared in May that anxiety is a “prime contributor to sleep difficulty.” This direct relationship means that as anxiety rises with political uncertainty, economic unrest, and almost a year of pandemic-related distress, so does insomnia. They suggest a possible benefit from “meditation or ‘mindfulness’ exercises.” The Dalai Lama, often credited with the quote “Sleep is the best meditation,” discusses incorporating technology and spiritual practice for a “great contribution for entire humanity” in a 2011 documentary short. A decade later, the concept is mainstream.“The world really needs this right now. Not just the U.S. with the election cycle, but here we literally just got news that Germany is going into a partial lockdown,” says Endel CEO Oleg Stavitsky on a Zoom call in which he’s joined by chief marketing officer Nadya Yurinova from their Berlin headquarters. “We practice mindfulness meditation—but we have to remember that this is a very elitist thing these days.” Beyond the expense of classes, retreats, and apps (a lifetime Endel subscription is $89.99), time is money. “You have to have the luxury to commit that time to meditate every single day. So our approach is something completely different: We create this soundscape that follows you everywhere, and it affects your cognitive state without you having to do anything,” he says. “We’re hopefully democratizing access to this sense of being present—and when you are present, you’re able to notice the beautiful things around you.”The format of “AI Lullaby” is based on the same neuroscience as Endel’s core Sleep Mode. To test its effectiveness, it implements the Experience Sampling Method designed by Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, a professor of psychology and management at Claremont Graduate University and author of the best-selling book Flow. Csíkszentmihályi even coined the term “flow,” which is now recognized in psychology as “a cognitive state where one is completely immersed in an activity.” Through the Experience Sampling Method, users were surveyed to evaluate their state of flow; they reported exponential decreases in anxiety and increases in concentration after using Endel’s soundscapes. To continue verifying the tech, Endel is working with a brain wave measurement company, as well as SleepScore Labs. The latter’s chief scientific officer, Roy Raymann, PhD, previously helped Apple develop sleep features like Night Shift and Bedtime. Stavitsky notes that Raymann offers research on “which sounds help you go to sleep faster, which sounds help you not wake up during the night—all of that science is applied to the ‘AI Lullaby’ soundscape as well.”When I ask what drew her to Endel’s methods, C shares a sentiment relatable to anyone with a smartphone: “I love the movement towards, as you say, ‘humane technology.’ I really appreciate the work of Tristan Harris and the Center for Humane Technology….” C writes. “They’re doing cool stuff.” Harris is among those offering a voice of reason in Netflix’s The Social Dilemma, which spotlights how Big Tech companies are collecting personal data (considered one of the world’s most valuable resources, comparable with oil or gold) and using it for undisclosed purposes. Endel emphasizes that it respects data privacy. “We’re dealing with your location, we’re dealing with your heart rate, we’re dealing with your movement, your exposure to natural light—but we’re putting all of this information to use in order to meaningfully improve your life, not to serve you personalized ads,” Stavitsky explains. “Actually, all of your data is currently processed on the device, so we’re not even sharing that with our servers.” Within the app, personalized data can be deleted with a tap. “It is our responsibility, I would say, and she would say, to steer this in the right direction,” he says of conversations with C about AI ethics. “I’m positive that our evolution depends on this.”