Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Transhumanism: Testing now underway for memory implants

As I age, my memory worsens.

It's nothing though compared with those who have genuine memory impairments or traumatic brain injury. That is exactly the sort of malady that transhumanism aims to eradicate. Now, research funded by DARPA is in the testing stage for human memory implants. Such work has already yielded positive results in rats and monkeys and is now being implemented with epilepsy patients.

Like many other aspects of mental function, memory is a series of electrical impulses generated by neurons. That suggests memory could be reduced to mathematical expressions and rendered to a computational framework. But due to the construction of the brain, the delivery of memory prosthetics has been somewhat problematic. The hippocampus region, the area that is the manager of sorts for the storage of memories, is buried deep.

They got the prosthetic to work in lab animals, though. A group of monkeys were given drugs to impair their memories (yeah, I'm not happy about it either) and then electrodes programmed with "memory code" were attached to their brains. The monkeys regained the ability to perform tasks they had previously been trained for but forgot due to the induced impairment. A testing of this prototype moved to human volunteers last year.

These volunteers were epilepsy patients who already had electrodes implanted in their brains to track their seizures. An additional benefit to testing with this group is that seizures often erode memory, so the success of the implant may ultimately help them out. The tests involve looking at pictures and then 90 seconds later recalling which ones they had seen. Said tests are not 100% but the progress appears promising.

Worth it I'd say for those suffering with impaired memories. Even better when such cybernetics could aid in not simply repairing memory function but enhancing it. Imagine full volumes of text downloaded directly into memory or storing massive amounts of other information and recalling it with perfect clarity. Now it should be noted that the research described above does not have such functions anywhere as its goals and that we're a long way away from the kind of implants I've just described. Knowing me of course, I can't help but speculate about it.

I also wonder about memory erasure. You know, kill off all those bad ones? So they don't keep coming back to haunt you in the night or pop up at inopportune times or just for the random heck of it? Memory is funny.

And messy.

And painful.

Yes, yes I know. We need bad memories for the lessons they instill and the reminders they can provide. At the same time, I would just like to be left to my speculative option of a cybernetic soma. I can see it all now. Like an old DOS utility from the early 1990s, defragging the hard drive so to speak. Seeing all those searing red blocks blink for a while and then turn to a cool aqua, matching the reset of the pattern.

Hey it's my brain. Why can't I do what I want with it?

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