Covid-19 pandemic: An exercise of human adaptability

Bryan Johnson
7 min readMar 14, 2020

Covid-19 is like a surprise school exam, that your teacher told you would be coming. It was in the syllabus, the teacher reminded the class several times, and yet when it arrives, it’s abrupt chaos! It is tough being human.

I am eager to learn best practices from others re: Covid-19. Here is what we did at Kernel this week:

Daily Covid-19 strategy planning
Each morning, company leaders and I met to digest daily news, the most recent science and recommendations to determine the day’s specific actions. Circumstances were changing, our company goals remained the same.

Psychological reconciliation
We had an all-company meeting on Monday to level set ourselves:

  • this is a crisis of unknown proportions and duration
  • best if we remain thoughtful about our individual experiencing of the seven stages of grief and strive for cognitive meta awareness for sound decision making (with inspiration from the Dunning Kruger effect)
  • the majority of us will likely contract Covid-19, it is just a matter of time
  • some people are more vulnerable to Covid-19 which means that this is a team sport, not each for their own
  • we build hardware and do neuroscience at Kernel, which, like many others in the world, requires some physical presence considerations. Our worldwide collective safety and basic functioning depends on a substantial percent of the population to be physically present somewhere, on the front lines, whether in factories or hospitals.
  • Covid-19 is with us for the long run, best if we settle in and figure out how we can flatten the curve and quickly adapt to this new norm
  • we will be proactive, adaptable, measured and take care of one another
  • we will create stronger and more durable bonds as we are forged in the foundry of Covid-19

New social norms
We made new social norms safe for everyone to immediately practice:

  • vigorously and frequently wash hands for 20 seconds, posting signs in all bathrooms and by all sinks reminding of appropriate hand washing procedures
  • no handshakes, maintain physical distance
  • best to avoid touching your face
  • stay at home if you feel ill and get tested asap (if even possible 😐)

During our all-company meeting, a colleague of ours asked everyone to help him avoid touching his face, a tick he had developed over the years and that he wanted to immediately change. He asked that people gently call this behavior to his attention. His cheerfulness and lighthearted nature allowed all of us to make it a company joke and also a meme that led to the creation of a company chat channel #stoptouchingyourface.

New company norms
Watching what happened in Wuhan, we began making preparations in January which paid off:

  • we deployed industrial grade disinfectant in spray bottles company wide, within reach of every personal and shared space, and began encouraging 2x daily cleaning, in addition to the professional cleaning services that were being done nightly
  • we eliminated as many shared surfaces as possible, including taking the cabinet doors off
  • we left entrance and exit doors open to avoid needing to touch shared surface handles
  • Any external visitor had to be approved by me personally. Upon arriving, we followed a staged protocol 1) asked questions of their health and recent travel 2) rigorous hand washing (which we oversaw) 3) limited to certain areas which could then be cleaned.
  • my co-workers and I took turns serving our colleagues lunch each day, eliminating the shared touch point of serving utensils and reinforcing the importance of new social norms
  • we carefully examined all workstreams and each individual’s role in those activities, and implemented plans for physical distancing, reduced density, WFH, and on-site coordination — also anticipating that schools would be closing.
  • created new protocols and processes for interviewing
  • we offered to pay for anyone getting tested for Covid-19 (if even possible 😐)
  • we purchased nutritional items that would help upregulate people’s immune system to lessen the effects if/when Covid-19 was/will be contracted [1]

Moving forward
On Monday, for those of us who will be in the office, we will have non-contact thermometers to regularly measure our temperatures. If one of us becomes ill, we will immediately go home, which is not ideal from a containment perspective as we will then infect those we live with (if they are not already), but for now in the U.S., home quarantine is sadly the only option we have.

Monday is nearly 48 hours from now, and given how fast this is moving, I am sure that we will be implementing a host of other measures as well and carefully reevaluating everything we put into place this week.

We would appreciate learning from others. What are you doing?

Amidst all of this, we began imagining Covid-19 through a neuro quantified and neuro inspired world…

At Kernel we are building a next generation, non-invasive mind/body/machine interface (MBMI) that can capture high quality neural data, competitive with state of the art modalities fMRI, MEG and ECoG (more coming soon on this). Our mission is to improve, evolve and extend human cognition, thereby radically accelerating the overall rate of human adaptability.

Observed by an intelligent being, the major failure of humans in this event was a lack of broadly shared empathy and trust. One can argue that we could have started all that we are doing now in US and Europe at least two months earlier, have we had a deep collective empathy towards the people in China during their new year.

Would advanced MBMI enhance the ability of homo sapiens to be able to “feel” each other’s state of mind and collectively perform much better against such events? I strongly believe so.

We imagined ways our technology could potentially be usefully applied to Covid-19. Here are a few things we came up with:

  1. What if we could quantify the cognitive effects on decision making after someone read coronavirus articles for 30 minutes? Would our judgement be akin to being legally inebriated? With that knowledge, could we then develop better systems to modulate and tailor information consumption for our resulting decision making processes? Would you be surprised by your own subconscious response?
  2. Could we quantify someone’s normal compulsion and risk aversion, and then quantify their cognitive proclivities to disaster scenarios? Or demonstrate detectable synchronization patterns between individual brain patterns and collective behavior, creating generalized models for better socio-economic preparedness and cooperation around the world.
  3. Would the neural signature of seeing clearly incorrect or hyperbolic information look different from a more nuanced piece?
  4. Could we gain insight into cognitive processes that hinder us from taking action on other surprise exams, or Covid-19 like scenarios, that we already know about but which we do nothing about?


[1] The message I sent to the team:

All — Your personal well-being is of great importance to me. Below are some practical tips that my personal physician shared with me to boost my well-being during this time. Disclaimer: this information does not constitute medical advice. Nor am I asking you to do these things based upon your employment at Kernel. Please consult your personal physician for any health related decisions.

1. Eat 2 Brazil nuts every day. Buy organic Brazil nuts if possible and keep them refrigerated. Reason: Brazil nuts are extremely rich in selenium and help protect against viral infections and upregulate your body’s antioxidant enzymes. [i]

2. Take 1000–2000 mg Vitamin C twice a day

3. Take 3000–5000 IU Vitamin D with Vitamin K daily. These help optimize immune function.

4. Zinc lozenges. These prevent coronavirus from multiplying in your throat. Let dissolve in your mouth if you experience any cold symptoms.

5. Take the peptide THYMOSIN** alpha — 1 (TA-1) daily. Available as daily injection (tiny needle like insulin), nasal spray or sublingual tablet. [ii] , [iii]

6. Get nutritional IVs at a local clinic. Consider IV nutritional support such as high dose Vitamin C, Glutathione, B vitamins, Myer’s cocktail etc… Every 10 days or so.

[i] From ZRT Labs: How Selenium Protects Against Viral Infections and Mutations

“Adequate selenium nutrition should be considered as a defense against viral infectious diseases. Selenium is an essential micronutrient that is important for immune response, thyroid health, oxidative damage prevention, and many other functions. Selenium from our diet replaces a sulfur atom in the amino acid cysteine to form selenocysteine, which is then incorporated into selenoproteins . There are 25 known selenoproteins, with most of them exhibiting antioxidant properties such as glutathione peroxidase (GPx). Viruses produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) which are combated by GPx and other selenoproteins to slow down viral replication and mutations. Studies using mice have shown that viral symptoms and infection times are more severe when dietary selenium is deficient, and that low selenium intake results in decreased GPx activity. While selenium may not be the only nutrient that 6defense against viral infectious diseases.In a nutshell, selenium deficiency → increased viral oxidative stress/inflammation → increased viral damage and mutations → new viral strains.”

[ii] From the compounding pharmacy: “Thymosin Alpha-1 has been known as an excellent immune modulator. Thymosin is a small protein produced naturally by the thymus gland which stimulates the development of disease-fighting T cells. The thymus is an integral part of your immune system, where individual T-cells are made to respond to the millions of bacteria, fungi, or viruses that could invade your body. Commonly prescribed for the treatment for chronic viral diseases, Thymosin Alpha-1 has also been shown to increase innate immunity factors and help fight against harmful autoimmune processes.”

[iii] Jing Y et al. Efficacy of thymosin alpha-1 and interferon alpha in treatment of chronic viral hepatitis B: A randomized controlled study. World J Gastroenterol. 2006 Nov 7; 12(41): 6715–6721. In conclusion, the results of this trial indicate that a 6-mo thymosin-α1 therapy is safe and effective in arresting hepatitis B viral replication and reducing lobular activity in patients with chronic hepatitis B.