Upload Your Brain – Really?

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Ever since my undergraduate days I have always wondered how much easier life would be if we could simply insert a USB cable into our head and store information externally or download journals onto our memory. Now it turns out that my wishful thinking is under serious consideration.

The idea that we could eventually download somebody else’s experience and memory onto our own brain is something that we would expect to see in science fiction rather than science reality. Though before you start getting excited with the prospect of downloading Ron Jeremy’s (lets say interesting activities) experiences, there are a number of challenges which we need to tackle such as being able to capture someones experience and memories in a digital format.

There is currently a project underway called The Human Brain Project which aims to undertake the vast task of recreating the human brain in a digital format, and is set to receive over €50 million in two years from the European Commission. Something tells me this is not going to be nowhere near the amount needed. (Maybe they could send some my way to pay for these crippling student fees instead!). That being said, it is unlikely they will be able to produce a system equivalent to 86 billion neurons, each connected with hundred or even thousands of others, but given time it may put us a few steps closer to the end goal. To give you some sort of perspective of time that it will take to map the human brain; it took the Blue Brain project in 2005, over 5 years to produce a system equivalent to a cortical column in a rats brain – which is an ordered structure of around 10,000 neurons. Click here for Human Brian Project video

The image shows a single neocortical column from a rats brain. This picture shows only 10,000 neurons occupying just 1mm cubed.

The image shows a single neocortical column from a rats brain. This picture shows only 10,000 neurons occupying just 1mm cubed.

Though the Human Brain Project is underway, the idea of capturing memories and experiences would be a much more difficult task than recreating a digital format of a brain First, there is no one brain fits all approach as yours brain is different to that of the person sat next to you. Second, a simple stimulus such as a slight sound may trigger a billion temporal neurons to fire. Also people are likely to associate different meanings and memories with the same stimulus. Even if we overcome these gigantic hurdles there is still a problem of transferring the digital data of one persons memory to another.

Even if it was possible to store one person’s memory in a digital format we would still have to translate it for the recipient of the information. One proposed theory to tackle this would be to alter a persons entire self-identity with how they perceive an experience. If this was actually possible wouldn’t this be just turning us all into drones, having no individuality about us.

There are a number of theories regarding the best way to overcome these problems, but one thing that is for sure is the huge time scale. If the idea of downloading and uploading memories and experiences is at all possible it would change our lives dramatically and personally I wish I could see it happen in my lifetime.

For more information about the Human Project visit their website which offers some interesting material for the keen reader (http://www.humanbrainproject.eu/index.html).

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About krisfarrant

Kris is a postgraduate (Cognitive Neuroscience) who loves to talk/rant about science. From the weird to the wonderful. Follow Science Rant for the latest in quirky science stories. Twitter: @krisfarrant Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ScienceRant

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