The Immortality Machine 

For decades, the theory of mind uploading seemed like science fiction. Now, neuroengineer Randal Koene is working to change that, and new research suggests the idea may not be as far-fetched as we once thought.

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While mind uploading — if it were to ever become a reality — may help humans deal more effectively with disease and aging, Koene also has more personal reasons for pursuing his research. Because while forward thinking has always been his strong suit, living in the present has proven to be more of a challenge.

Last April, in a move to become more honest and emotionally present, Koene wrote a revealing blog entry titled, "What not to do in your personal life: My Two Years as a Liar." In it, he chronicled a muddle of affairs he had during his marriage to a woman (they are now separated) with whom he has two children. He says by being dishonest about his feelings, he lost a lot of trust and ruined close relationships. That was only six months ago, and since then, he's trying to pick up the pieces.

One way he's trying to rebuild his personal life is by practicing a less hard-core form of "radical honesty," a technique developed by W. Brad Blanton in 1990 that is based upon the belief that lying is the reason for modern human stress and that direct, blunt honesty will lead to greater intimacy in relationships and general peace of mind. Although Koene says he's still sensitive to people's feelings, he makes a daily effort to be truthful in all his interactions. "Now I feel like an alcoholic who has to watch every last drop," he wrote in an email in April. "Except in my case, it's every white lie."

It's these types of human flops and follies, which most of us have made or will make in our lifetime to some degree, that make mind uploading appealing to some. If you could simply rewind your mind or another's mind after an unfortunate misstep, you could have another chance to make it right, do it the way you wanted without all the messy fallout caused by volatile human emotion.

Koene says along with being able to undo certain traumas or mistakes, mind uploading would allow us to be more aware of what is happening inside our minds, like knowing the intended emotion behind the words of a conversation partner. "It's like empathy to the nth degree," he said.

It would be a place where consequences didn't exist and possibilities of discovery were endless. "Imagine if testing a medical procedure wouldn't mean risking death of that patient," said Koene, "because you could revive the patient from an archive, or just run processes in parallel until it was clear the procedure could do no harm."

It's almost a type of transcendence to a new realm, where you get to create your own universe. If what Koene says is true — that everything we experience is mental and the mind is the only place where we experience existence — then it opens up the world to become what we want it to be. Koene says the basic ideas behind mind uploading echo the teachings of one of the major religions of the world: Buddhism.

In fact, the Dalai Lama has even given his official blessing and support to Itskov's 2045 Initiative's avatar project, which involves the creation of an android and a brain-computer interface system to link the mind with it. It would mean creating a life support system for the human brain, and finally developing an artificial brain in which to transfer a person's consciousness. The end goal? Cybernetic immortality.

Itskov is a "Buddhist Transhumanist" — yes, there is such a thing — and believes that by the year 2045, our minds will be capable of moving to new bodies with capabilities that far exceed that of humans. Koene says the billionaire sees it as a route to transcendence — to truly understanding ourselves — and that to reach the self-cleansing aspect of Buddhist masters, people need 1,000 years, so extending human life will make it much easier to get there. Itskov's foundation has already held his first meeting in Moscow in February and the next one is slated for New York City in June.

While the possibilities that the concept of mind uploading offers are interesting — even fascinating — the idea still seems, well, like science fiction. After all, how can we begin to think we can recreate our most complicated organ, when no one has even come close, after thousands of years of inquiry and research?

Turns out a new study shows that the recreating the mind might not be as far out of reach as skeptics suggest.

For more than a decade, Dr. Theodore Berger — a professor of biomedical engineering and neurobiology at the University of Southern California — has been working to make a microchip that can learn and remember in the same way the hippocampus in our brains learns and remembers.

Once a memory is created, it has to be stored. A number of experts believe there are three ways we store memories: first, in the sensory stage; second, in short-term memory; then, in long-term. The hippocampus, a horseshoe-shaped structure with one foot in the left hemisphere and the other in the right, is part of the limbic system that consolidates these new memories by discerning which are important and sending them to the appropriate part of the cerebral hemisphere for long-term storage.

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