October 15, 2007

AD 7,007 beckons

snapshot of Lawnmower ManI remember seeing a very beautiful and thought provoking movie, The Lawnmower Man. Poor Jobe was a mentally retarded man. He used to be heckled and abused by one and all. Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan), a scientist, was involved in a research, aimed to increase the intelligence of chimpanzees, using drugs and virtual reality. One day Peter, a little boy of the neighborhood, and Jobe were ushered in to Dr. Angelo's lab. There he let them play with his virtual reality machines. After taking Jobe into confidence, he gave him some shots of nootropics (drugs that enhance memories such as caffeine, piracetam). These nootropics along with virtual reality, made Jobe smarter as days passed by. Jobe assumed superhuman powers and he ultimately became pure energy and 'merged' with a mainframe computer.

The question is: can we do a Jobe too? By Jove, we can! Just get our thoughts or souls in a digital code and upload it into a computer.

We continuously emit electromagnetic waves, be it from our hearts or our brains. Our brains have more than 100 billion neurons. The activity we record in the form of EEG reflects the brains' activity in analog signals (eg. signals we encounter in everyday life, signals we can see). But signal transmission within the brain involves synapses, which 'talk' digitally (i.e. in terms of 1's and 0's: binary logic). Because in the synapse, it is all or none. We just have to separate each single neuronal activity (so that they no longer mingle to give an algebraic sum) and apply specific attributes (like co-ordinates) to them. We have to do this non invasively (without doing surgeries or injections etc.)

Joe Z. Tsien, professor of pharmacology and biomedical engineering and director of Center of Systems Neurobiology at Boston University, has expressed that such a situation might arise one day. In his stunning article 'The Memory Code', in July 2007 issue of Scientific American, he has shown how responses in mice can be extrapolated in binary terms. Here I am quoting him verbatim: "Could it be that 5,000 years from now, we will be able to download our minds onto computers, travel to distant worlds and live forever in the network?"

It may be even sooner. Doesn't it smell like the movie 'The Matrix'?
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