The BBC News article Hi-tech dreamcatcher defeats sleep amnesia mentions a recent talk by Adam Haar Horowitz and then describes some limited tests of an apparatus called Dormio at the MIT media lab, that detects when an individual is in hypnagogia and then initiates interaction with a "social robot" rather than another person.

The interactions can include "verbal" prompting and suggestions by the robot!

The Dormio gadget is connected to a smartphone app or robot, which speaks word prompts to the subject as they slip into deeper sleep. These words can be used to influence their dreams or to knock them back into lighter sleep.

"We have found that in the subjects we tested, those words reliably entered the hypnagogic dreams as dream content," said Mr Horowitz.

"After this slight wake-up, we initiate a conversation about dream content with users via the Jibo social robot and record anything that is said, as hypnagogic amnesia is reported and we don't want people forgetting their useful ideas."

After this conversation, the system lets users drift back towards sleep, interrupting again when the biosignals suggest they are falling into deep sleep.

"This is done repetitively to intercept dreams and extract dream reports," said Mr Horowitz.

The BBC article notes some skepticism:

Antonio Zadra, a psychology professor at the University of Montreal, believes that dreams are designed to be forgotten.

"We spend six years of our lives dreaming, of which we only remember a small sliver. If we were meant to be remembering more, that would be a colossal waste of time," he said.

as well as a bit of foreboding by Horowitz himself:

Mr Horowitz admits there are ethical questions that need to be thought about before engaging with this enigmatic part of our daily routine.

"How much of yourself do you want to access?" he ponders.

"How much power do you want to have there? How much do you want to be careful about messing with your own biosignals?"

The idea of letting your own potentially internet-connected smartphone interact with you in your sleep (during hypnagogia), while Siri, Cortana, Alexa, or even hackers may be running at the same time just seems slightly frightening to me.

While there may be various guidelines and even regulations that apply to scientific medical research, this is MIT's media lab, and the indirect results could include someone selling a gizmo you buy on Amazon and connect to your phone and then go to sleep.

Question: Based on current understanding and ethical principles regarding interactions between sleeping subjects and human researchers or experimental apparatus, what would areas of ethical or safety concerns be about allowing a phone to interact with sleeping subjects?

  • $\begingroup$ Here I'm just looking for objective and science-based answers rather than opinions or speculation $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jul 1, 2018 at 9:26
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    $\begingroup$ Science on ethics is very limited I believe (largely in the realm of philosophy), so possibly you are more interested in potential legal concerns? $\endgroup$
    – Steven Jeuris
    Nov 9, 2018 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @StevenJeuris while the fields of psychology and neurology have theoretical aspects, most of what is known in these fields comes from human and animal subjects. These fields are both shaped by, and driven by ethical considerations at every turn. So it's not science on ethics , but the ethics, ever-present in these experimental sciences that I'm asking about. Thankfully, the two are almost always inseparable. "Personal" electronic devices with computing and networking capability are really a recent twist, and can blur the line between what is an experiment and what is "market research". $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 9, 2018 at 23:21
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    $\begingroup$ I don't want to get into that here, at least not deeply, and I don't have a good sense of what is or isn't on-topic in this site either. But electronics that actively interacts with a person while they are sleeping certainly could be seen as an experimental apparatus capable of doing experiments on human subjects, and its that potential I'm curious about. If exploring the boundaries of ethical guidelines in psychology and neurology is off-topic, let me know and I can rewrite. I'm definitely not asking about legal aspects though. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Nov 9, 2018 at 23:31


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