Startup claims it can preserve your brain but you have to die first [Video]

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California startup Nectome claims it can upload your memories to the cloudThe company uses a chemical solution that can keep the body intact for hundreds or thousands of years as a statue of frozen glass, according to MITBut according to Nectome"s co-founder, the method is "100 percent...

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  • California startup Nectome claims it can upload your memories to the cloud
  • The company uses a chemical solution that can keep the body intact for hundreds or thousands of years as a statue of frozen glass, according to MIT
  • But according to Nectome’s co-founder, the method is ‘100 percent fatal’ 
  • The firm hopes to use terminally ill patients, likening it to doctor-assisted suicide

The idea of uploading your mind to a computer has been theorized for many years now, but it’s mostly remained the stuff of science fiction. 

A San Francisco-based startup is trying to change that by devising a way to preserve the human brain so that its memories can be uploaded to the cloud.

However, in order for Nectome’s technology to work, participants have to be willing to be euthanized. 

And there’s no guarantee that the process will actually work after you’ve surrendered your brain and your life. 

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San Francisco-based startup Nectome says it has devised a way to preserve a human brain and upload its memories to the cloud. The firm has won a federal grant and raised $1M in funding. File photo

San Francisco-based startup Nectome says it has devised a way to preserve a human brain and upload its memories to the cloud. The firm has won a federal grant and raised $1M in funding. File photo

San Francisco-based startup Nectome says it has devised a way to preserve a human brain and upload its memories to the cloud. The firm has won a federal grant and raised $1M in funding. File photo

Nectome has figured out a way to preserve the human brain in microscopic detail using a ‘high-tech embalming process,’ according to the MIT Technology Review. 

‘You can think of what we do as a fancy form of embalming that preserves not just the outer details but the inner details,’ Robert McIntyre, Nectome’s cofounder, told MIT.

Speaking to prospective customers, Nectome positions its service as: ‘What if we told you we could back up your mind?’ 

The company uses a chemical solution that can keep the body intact for hundreds or thousands of years as a statue of frozen glass, MIT said.

But the key to being able to recreate a person’s consciousness involves accessing the organ’s ‘connectome.’

A connectome is the complex web of neural connections in the brain, often referred to as the brain’s wiring system. 

Pictured is a screenshot from Nectome's website, which asks visitors: 'What if we told you we could back up your mind?' The company's cofounder admits that the tech is '100% fatal'

Pictured is a screenshot from Nectome's website, which asks visitors: 'What if we told you we could back up your mind?' The company's cofounder admits that the tech is '100% fatal'

Pictured is a screenshot from Nectome’s website, which asks visitors: ‘What if we told you we could back up your mind?’ The company’s cofounder admits that the tech is ‘100% fatal’

Nectome centers around the idea of transhumanism, or that the human body can evolve beyond its current form with the help of scientists and technology. The idea is widely debated

Nectome centers around the idea of transhumanism, or that the human body can evolve beyond its current form with the help of scientists and technology. The idea is widely debated

Nectome centers around the idea of transhumanism, or that the human body can evolve beyond its current form with the help of scientists and technology. The idea is widely debated

Nectome, which MIT referred to as a ‘preserve-your-brain-and-upload-it’ company, has figured out a way to embalm the connectome as well. 

The firm is trying to sell preserving your brain as a service that’s available to the public. 

To do that, it’s taking a page from Tesla and allowing interested customers to sign up early and put up a down payment of $10,000. 

So far, 25 customers have been added to Nectome’s wait list. 

However, Nectome’s services likely won’t be publicly available for a while, as the company still has to prove memories can be found in dead tissue, MIT said. 

‘The product is ‘100% fatal,’ McIntyre said.

‘That is why we are uniquely situated among the Y Combinator companies,’ he added. 

Nectome will present its business strategy at startup incubator Y Combinator’s ‘demo days’ next week.

Some Twitter users expressed skepticism around Nectome’s technology, while others seemed were enthused by the idea of preserving their mind in the cloud forever.

The company has raised $1 million in funding so far and won a $960,000 federal grant from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, according to MIT. 

McIntyre also won an $26,000 prize from the Brain Preservation Foundation for preserving a pig’s brain by using strong chemicals to suspend neurons and synapses, then chilling them in frigidly cold temperatures.

For Nectome to successfully upload a person’s memories, the brain has to be fresh.  

That’s why in February the company obtained the body of a recently deceased elderly woman. 

In the first demonstration of the technology on a human brain, they were able to begin preserving her brain just 2.5 hours after her death. In total, the preservation process takes six hours, MIT noted. 

HOW SOON WILL WE BE ABLE TO UPLOAD OUR MINDS TO A COMPUTER?

Brain and memory preservation has been explored at length by futurists, scientists and science fiction junkies alike. 

Many say it falls under the category of ‘transhumanism.’  

Transhumanism is the belief that the human body can evolve beyond its current form with the help of scientists and technology.  

The practice of mind uploading has been promoted by many people, including Ray Kurzweil, Google’s director of engineering, believes we will be able to upload our entire brains to computers by 2045.

Similar technologies have been depicted in science fiction dramas, ranging from Netflix’s Altered Carbon, to the popular series Black Mirror.  

Another prominent futurist, Dr Michio Kaku, believes virtual reality can be used to keep our loved ones’ personalities and memories alive even after they die. 

Scientists and futurists have different theories about how we might be able to preserve the human brain, ranging from uploading our memories to a computer to Nectome's high-tech embalming process, which can keep it intact for thousands of years

Scientists and futurists have different theories about how we might be able to preserve the human brain, ranging from uploading our memories to a computer to Nectome's high-tech embalming process, which can keep it intact for thousands of years

Scientists and futurists have different theories about how we might be able to preserve the human brain, ranging from uploading our memories to a computer to Nectome’s high-tech embalming process, which can keep it intact for thousands of years

‘Imagine being able to speak to your loved one after they die, but it is possible if their personality has been downloaded onto a computer as an avatar,’ he explained. 

These ideas haven’t been met without criticism, however. 

McGill University Neuroscientist Michael Hendricks told MIT that these technologies are a ‘joke.’

‘I hope future people are appalled that in the 21st century, the richest and most comfortable people in history spent their money and resources trying to live forever on the backs of their descendants. I mean, it’s a joke, right? They are cartoon bad guys,” Hendricks said. 

Meanwhile, neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis said recently that such technologies would be virtually impossible. 

‘The brain is not computable and no engineering can reproduce it,’ he said. 

‘You can have all the computer chips in the world and you won’t create a consciousness,’ he added.  

It’s unclear how old the woman was, her cause of death or how much Nectome paid for her corpse. 

McIntyre told MIT that the woman’s brain was ‘one of the best-preserved ever,’ albeit it becoming damaged after she had been dead a few hours.

The woman’s brain will eventually be sliced into ‘paper-thin sheets’ for research and analysis with an electron microscope, MIT said. 

Next, McIntyre wants to try out Nectome’s technology on a person planning doctor-assisted suicide due to a mental illness. 

The firm has spoken to lawyers who are familiar with the laws around doctor-assisted suicide for terminally ill patients and many believe the company’s services will be legal.     

The company uses a chemical solution that can keep the body intact for hundreds or thousands of years as a statue of frozen glass

The company uses a chemical solution that can keep the body intact for hundreds or thousands of years as a statue of frozen glass

The company uses a chemical solution that can keep the body intact for hundreds or thousands of years as a statue of frozen glass

IS GOOGLE PLANING TO DOWNLOAD PERSONALITIES?

A patent filed by Google last year described a system which would allow robots to download new personalities online. 

The system would allow machines to download them in a similar way to an app – and even have a different personality for each user. 

The patent says the personality could replicate the robot’s owner, ‘a deceased loved one,’ or ‘a celebrity’. Google’s patent details a cloud-based system where a personality could be downloaded to a robot, in the same way one might download an app. 

‘The robot personality may also be modifiable within a base personality construct (i.e., a default-persona) to provide states or moods representing transitory conditions of happiness, fear, surprise, perplexion (e.g., the Woody Allen robot), thoughtfulness, derision (e.g., the Rodney Dangerfield robot), and so forth,’ states the patent.

‘The user experience will be identical to physician-assisted suicide,’ McIntyre told MIT. 

‘Product-market fit is people believing that it works,’ he added. 

McIntyre believes Nectome fits in the same category as companies that develop technologies like quantum computing.

‘Those companies also can’t sell anything now, but there is a lot of interest in the technologies that could be revolutionary if they are made to work,’ McIntyre said.

‘I do think that brain preservation has amazing commercial potential,’ he explained. 

Brain preservation has been criticized by many experts who say ‘transhumanism’ is wrong.

Transhumanism is the belief that the human body can evolve beyond its current form with the help of scientists and technology. 

The idea has been explored at length by futurists, scientists and science fiction junkies alike. 

Some experts say Nectome shouldn’t attempt to offer its services commercially before its findings are published in a medical journal. 

Others say transhumanism is fraudulent. 

‘Burdening future generations with our brain banks is just comically arrogant,’ McGill University neuroscientist Michael Hendricks told MIT. 

‘Aren’t we leaving them with enough problems?,’ he added.  

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