Unwind: Music as an alternative to traditional medicine

Marko Ahtisaari presents Unwind, a global experiment in drug-free ways to treat physical and mental health.

Tech guru Marko Ahtisaari invited the audience to take part in a global experiment that uses music to help people deal with pain, stress and relaxation without pharmaceutical drugs, which can be harmful and addictive. 

Called Unwind, the web-based app combines Artificial Intelligence (AI) and pre-recorded musical cues to regulate the user's heart rate. Unwind generates a melody that matches the user's frantic heart rate, and as the melody becomes more and more subdued so does the body's stress responses, creating a period of relaxation and calm. 

"The aim is to match you in your current state – a principle in music called the iso principle – and then to unwind you from there," he explained in his design talk at the Design Indaba Conference 2017. "The question of course is, 'what kind of music is this?' Our view is that the best result is achieved by combining machine intelligence and human creativity and intelligence." 

The programme can be used for free any number of times using a smartphone. Its global implications are clear, says Ahtisaari, when one considers the opioid crisis in America today. Brought on by synthetic painkillers and stress relievers that were prescribed en masse and then taken away, the crisis is currently ravaging rural areas in the country. Unwind is part of Ahtisaari's Sync Project, an effort to create music that can be used as medicine in place of highly addictive prescription drugs. 

According to research in the field of neuroscience, the brain fires very broadly when we listen to music, much like when we use psychostimulants or in other words, drugs. In an interview after his design talk, he explains: "We understand the power that music has over us. It affects our brain, our emotions and our bodies. We all self-medicate with music. We use music to get pumped up, to go to the gym. We use music to de-stress and unwind. We also use music to get in the zone, to concentrate. So intuitively we know that it's working." 

**Note: We apologise for the sound problems in the beginning of the video. 

Watch the Interview with Marko Ahtisaari, Liberty