Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen, engineer and executive for both Facebook and Oculus, announced at the Anita Borg Women of Vision Awards, that after a little more than a year in her position she will resign in order to turn her attention to medicine.
Specifically, according to Xconomy, Dr. Jepsen plans to join startup Open Water to pursue working with brain waves and how to use them to develop new medical technologies. She couldn’t reveal any more about Open Water’s funding or plans, but did hint at one technology she plans to develop.
“My big bet is we can use that manufacturing infrastructure to create the functionality of a $5 million MRI machine in a consumer electronics price-point wearable,” she told Xconomy. Her goal is to eventually get these into doctor’s offices to facilitate early diagnosis of cancer, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular disease, internal bleeding, blood clots, and eventually more.
Dr. Jepsen has had her eye on imaging technology for some time. She was diagnosed with brain cancer and had a tumor removed, so undoubtedly underwent a significant amount of MRI scans. It was likely as a result of the somewhat inconvenient experience of laying in a MRI multiple times that she began considering the idea. Here she is discussing MRI and fMRI systems in a TED talk December of last year:
Though wearable MRI for disease diagnosis seems to be only the beginning of Dr. Jepsen’s endeavors. She plans to use her “substantial capability in consumer electronics” to explore “the hairy edge of what physics can do” by coming up with novel ways to image human thoughts. Two specifics she cited were helping stroke survivors unable to speak to communicate with thoughts, and amputees harnessing thoughts to make prosthetic devices more dextrous.
Her goals then take a turn for the sci-fi: “Can you imagine a movie director waking up with an image of a new scene in her head, and just being able to dump her dream into a computer?” she asked Xconomy. Going even further, “Maybe we can communicate with animals, maybe we can scan animal brains and see what images they are thinking of,” Jepsen mused. “So little is known. Dolphins are supposed to be really smart—maybe we can collaborate with them.”
For nearly anyone else, that would immediately be tossed aside as way too far-out sci-fi fantasy. But as someone who has successfully engineered an alternate reality, it almost seems possible that Dr. Jepsen could find a way to accomplish it.