Thursday, July 19, 2012

Mind Uploading: Kenneth Hayworth and the Study of Connectomes

Sometimes I think I should spend more time imagining the future. 

By the future, I don't just mean 1 or 5 years from now, but 100 or 500 years from now.  What will be completely different, completely unpredicted, for our children's grandchildren's grandchildren?


I have not read very much science fiction, but I thought about the genre when Ray Bradbury died earlier this year. I don't think I've read anything by Bradbury (not even Fahrenheit 451, which I somehow missed in high school), but I liked the way that he was praised for his imagination

I want to make sure that my imagination stays healthy. I am confident that having kids will help, but I wonder what else I can do to nurture imagination.


Evan Goldstein has an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (here) about Kenneth Hayworth, a person whose imagination is definitely strong.

Hayworth and other people in the field of connectomics are studying ways in which human consciousness can eventually be preserved and transferred:
Hayworth has spent much of the past few years in a windowless room carving brains into very thin slices. He is by all accounts a curious man, known for casually saying things like, "The human race is on a beeline to mind uploading: We will preserve a brain, slice it up, simulate it on a computer, and hook it up to a robot body." He wants that brain to be his brain. He wants his 100 billion neurons and more than 100 trillion synapses to be encased in a block of transparent, amber-colored resin—before he dies of natural causes. 
Why? Ken Hayworth believes that he can live forever. 
But first he has to die. 
"If your body stops functioning, it starts to eat itself," he explains to me one drab morning this spring, "so you have to shut down the enzymes that destroy the tissue." If all goes according to plan, he says cheerfully, "I'll be a perfect fossil." Then one day, not too long from now, his consciousness will be revived on a computer. By 2110, Hayworth predicts, mind uploading—the transfer of a biological brain to a silicon-based operating system—will be as common as laser eye surgery is today. 
To understand why Hayworth wants to plastinate his own brain you have to understand his field—connectomics, a new branch of neuroscience. A connectome is a complete map of a brain's neural circuitry. Some scientists believe that human connectomes will one day explain consciousness, memory, emotion, even diseases like autism, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's—the cures for which might be akin to repairing a wiring error. In 2010 the National Institutes of Health established the Human Connectome Project, a $40-million, multi-institution effort to study the field's medical potential.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think the idea of mind-uploading is too far-fetched given the massive strides that have made in our lifetimes towards digital storage.

    But, I'm posting to suggest you consider reading Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312. He imagines what the solar system could look like, politically, following the terraforming of Mars, the widespread of terraria made from asteroids, and the colonization of Jupiter's and Saturn's moons. There are a lot of interesting ideas in the novel, which builds off of the author's Mars and climate change trilogies.

    Cool post.