Los Angeles-based tech company Kernel is working on a ‘memory prosthesis’ to be placed in the hippocampus
“The Matrix” is now 17 years old, but I still remember my jaw dropping when Neo interfaced with the Matrix for the first time and uploaded a kung-fu database directly to his brain.
My first thought was: Wouldn’t it be cool to upload information directly into our minds, instead of wasting time and energy in trying to memorize stuff? Imagine what that could mean for education, or any profession where quick and timely access to specific sets of data is crucial. A doctor could take just milliseconds to “remember” a complex procedure during an emergency operation; a lawyer could have immediate access to an entire library of cases and precedents simply by thinking about them.
Our brains would probably change, and in a fundamental way. Instead of wasting our brain power on remembering things, we’d use it to process the data we could acquire so easily. Although most of our brain matter would be more occupied with processing the raw data than with storing it, we would still have access to more information than ever before.
If there were an interface that could serve as a mediator between digital data sources and our brains, it could also take our existing memories and digitize them. In other words, we would be able to share memories!
This breakthrough would lead to a totally unprecedented level of empathy among individuals. Sharing would not only be limited to pleasant and fun memories, but also to those more somber and unpleasant. The memories could then be used as an invaluable source of information for therapists to provide effective aid to those scarred by traumatic events.
Instead of reading books and watching movies, we could remember them as we do past events. Finally, if our implant had an option to send and receive data wirelessly, we would also gain the ability to communicate via telepathy.
If this sounds amazing (or frightening), my next sentence will excite (or terrify) you even more: There is a company out there working hard to make all of this happen. It’s called Kernel. The Los Angeles-based company was founded by Bryan Johnson, an American entrepreneur and venture capitalist.
Prior to founding Kernel, Johnson served as founder, chairman and CEO of Braintree, an online-payment system that was acquired by eBay Inc. EBAY, -0.10% for $800 million in 2013.
The company’s chief science officer is Ted Berger, a professor of biomedical engineering and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. His research focuses on the hippocampus, a brain region essential for learning and memory.
Kernel is working to create a “memory prosthesis” in the form of a chip that would be implanted in the hippocampus. This chip could do the work of memory formation in lieu of failing brain cells. In other words, once developed, it would help the brain create memories when afflicted cells were no longer able to. Berger’s work could be of tremendous help to people with traumatic brain injuries, Alzheimer’s, dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Before even thinking about using one such chip on humans, Berger and a team of scientists experimented on monkeys in 2012. While the monkeys solved a picture-matching game, the team used tiny probes implanted into their skulls to record neural signals that fired during the decision making, with the focus on signals emitted when a monkey made a correct choice.
The “correct” signal was later transmitted back to the monkey’s brain via a tiny probe. Using this method of stimulation, scientists were able to improve monkeys’ performance in these trials by 10%. The potential future application back then was to use a similar approach with human patients suffering from brain damage. Much like the probes in the 2012 study, the implanted chip in humans would generate a special signal pattern, which would mimic a healthy response and bypass the damaged area in the brain.
Today, Kernel is focused on delivering one such chip to those suffering from brain injuries or neurological diseases, as well as those recovering from strokes and the after-effects of concussions. The company’s next step, however, is hinted on its homepage:
“Machines of all kinds can help us along the way, but our vision is one in which we humans maintain and expand our authorial power. The advanced intelligence of tomorrow is a collaboration between the natural and the artificial. United, unheard of possibilities abound. We want to expand the bounds of human intelligence, and this is our start, small by design.”
The final form of the company’s neural prosthesis seems to be a brain implant meant to serve as a storage device, digital interface and perhaps even as an additional processing unit, to further enhance brain power.
Although this still seems years away, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Once it happens, it will change the way we experience life forever.
What do you think about neural implants? Would you get one? Please let me know in the comment section below.