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.
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.
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.
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 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.