A futurist, theoretical physicist, and computer scientist, Giulio Prisco, writes about science, technology, and the future. He’s also a co-founder of Space Cooperative. Prior to this month, the Brain Preservation Foundation (BPF) announced that the final phase of the Brain Preservation prize is won by a cryobiology research team that was led by Robert McIntyre. Robert McIntyre is an adviser to the Brain Preservation Foundation. The same researchers won the preliminary Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize two years back. McIntyre co-founded the startup Nectome to further develop the technology.
Unfortunately, after the initial story about the startup from MIT Technology Review, the tabloid press has jumped on McIntyre’s startup with some of the sensationalized headlines, suggesting that the Nectome is offering to digitize your brain for $10,000 but it first has to kill you or do something like that.
The procedure used for doing this is called as Aldehyde-Stabilized Cryopreservation (ASC); this process is designed to preserve the “connectome,” it is a complete wiring diagram of the brain, that is believed by some of the best neuroscientists to encode memory and personal identity. In a few centuries or a few decades or a few centuries, according to one of the top scientists Stephen Hawking, future technology is likely to permit the copying of information encoded in a preserved brain, and later uploading the data to advanced supercomputers.
Stephen Hawking has also stated that “it’s theoretically possible to copy the brain onto a computer and so provide a form of life after death.” “However, this is way beyond our present capabilities.”
Linda Chamberlain and her late husband Fred founded Alcor Life Extension Foundation in 1972 in a belief that our capabilities will advance one day without any limits. Alcor is widely known as the largest service provider for cryonics. Cryonics is a process of freezing patients immediately after death; this is done in a hope that the future technology would bring them back to life.
Fred Chamberlain was cryopreserved by Alcor in 2012. “This is probably the last piece of ‘self-launched’ email you’ll get from me,” he emailed me and other friends a few days before. “See you somewhere in the future!!!
ASC is also called as “vitrifixation” as it is a two-step process that includes fixation and vitrification. First of all, the chemical fixative glutaraldehyde is used for rapidly solidifying the synapses and prevent decay. Later, the antifreeze chemical ethylene glycol is used to turn the brain into something like a glass-like solid or a vitreous. This makes the brain able to withstand long-term cryogenic storage at a comparatively low temperature.
ASC can also be seen as next-generation cryonics, but also as an alternative form of cryonics that would be designed for future post-biological revival. The “uploaders” are those who are happy with the prospect of coming back to life as sentient software running on future supercomputers.
“Let that sink in…,” BPF President Ken Hayworth said in an email to the BPF advisory team. “ASC, if properly applied TODAY, could preserve the information content of a human brain for indefinitely-long storage.”
The point to be noted here is that the chemical fixation step is deadly, it internally kills living cells. According to the Alcor position statement- “while ASC produces clearer images than current methods of vitrification without fixation, it does so at the expense of being toxic to the biological machinery of life by wreaking havoc on a molecular scale.”
To read more about this ultimate technology is being developed for preserving brain so that the human mind can be uploaded, click here.