Science Fiction or Weird Science?

Uploading our brain ware to reanimate our consciousness for future use was once considered worthy of science fiction only. New technology has made it conceivable enough to raise some serious concerns.

Kenneth Hayworth, president and co-founder of the Brain Preservation Foundation, is currently a senior scientist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus (JFRC) in Ashburn, Virginia. JFRC is perhaps the leading research institution in the field of Connectomics in the United States. At JFRC, Dr Hayworth is currently researching ways to extend Focused Ion Beam Scanning Electron Microscopy (FIBSEM) imaging of brain tissue to encompass much larger volumes than are currently possible. Dr Hayworth is a vocal advocate for brain preservation and mind uploading.

Earlier this year, when the foundation awarded a prize to researchers for preserving all the neutral circuits of a pig’s brain, Dr Hayworth found himself in the midst of a media storm. The media skewed the research findings and importance of the advances in the brain preservation technology reporting it to be all about euthanasia.

The research method used to preserve the pig’s brain was carried out on a recently deceased brain. If the technology became available to humans, anyone wishing to preserve their own brains this way would need to die, ideally when the brain is in good shape. Reporters reached the conclusion that the technology was about taking the opportunity to die knowing your brain would be preserved.

The sensational euthanasia angle crowded out the scientific story about the remarkable advances being made in the connectomics, the science of figuring out a brain’s complete wiring diagram and the once absurd notion that it might one day be possible to upload a mind into the cloud. “It will be at least 50 years before the human mind is successfully uploaded and 100 years before it’s routine,” said Dr Hayworth.