Will the New '100 Percent Fatal' Mind-Uploading Service Work?

Do you want to be in control group or the experimental group?



Nectome, a new startup, declares that it is "comitted to the goal of archiving your mind." How? By vitrifying your brain so as to preserve the structure of all of your synapses. That way, the thinking goes, the connections in your stored brain can one day be digitized and uploaded into a computer, perhaps a century hence.

The processs of "archiving" involves flooding your brain with the chemical fixative glutaraldehyde to rapidly solidify synapses and prevent decay, then storing it in liquid nitrogen. Since vitrification is, as the company says, "100 percent fatal," the process would ideally take place just as a client is succumbing to a fatal illness. To upload your mind, your brain would have to be destroyed.

Will it work? Lots of neuroscientists doubt it. Over at LiveScience, Sam Gershman, a computational neuroscientist at Harvard, points out that while the "connectome is without a doubt necessary for memory," there's lots more going on in our brains that's probably crucial to constructing our memories. For example, "You need to know the synaptic strengths, if they're excitatory/inhibitory, various time constants, what neuromodulators are present, the dynamical state of dendritic spines. And that's all assuming that memories are even stored at synapses!"

And of course, there is the philosophical question of whether or not a computer simulation of your brain would really be you.

The current alternative of regular cryonics involves freezing and preserving bodies and brains in liquid nitrogen with the hope that advances in nanotechnology will enable the repair of the damage caused by death and freezing, allowing patients to "wake up" restored to health in their own bodies.

Is this ethical? Since clients will be volunteers using their own resources, yes. Most people who decide to avail themselves of these experimental services recognize that they are extremely long shots that are likely going to end up being expensive versions of mummifcation. On the other hand, we already know what happens to the control group.