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A Brain Implant For Synthetic Memory 87

the_newsbeagle (2532562) writes "People who have experienced traumatic brain injuries sometimes lose the ability to form new memories or recall old ones. Since many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffered TBIs, the U.S. military is funding research on an implantable device that could do the job of damaged brain cells." Lofty goals: "To start, DARPA will support the development of multi-scale computational models with high spatial and temporal resolution that describe how neurons code declarative memories — those well-defined parcels of knowledge that can be consciously recalled and described in words, such as events, times, and places. Researchers will also explore new methods for analysis and decoding of neural signals to understand how targeted stimulation might be applied to help the brain reestablish an ability to encode new memories following brain injury. ... Building on this foundational work, researchers will attempt to integrate the computational models ... into new, implantable, closed-loop systems able to deliver targeted neural stimulation that may ultimately help restore memory function."
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A Brain Implant For Synthetic Memory

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    This is awesome. no more need to learn, just get upgrades!

    • This is awesome. no more need to learn, just get upgrades!

      That is decades away. This research is just the first baby steps of trying to understand how memories are stored in neural patterns. It will be a while before any useful treatments come out of this. It is possible that we will eventually be able to implant knowledge modules instead of reading books and taking classes, but a lot of basic research needs to be done first.

      • "a lot of basic research needs to be done first" == "is unlikely to happen in your lifetime"

        • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @03:03PM (#47417825)

          "a lot of basic research needs to be done first" == "is unlikely to happen in your lifetime"

          In high school I took a science fiction class, and we read the Foundation Trilogy [wikipedia.org], which contains a description of the Encyclopedia Galactica [wikipedia.org] which was an instantly available compendium of human knowledge. When a student mentioned that it would be cool if we actually had something like that, most people agreed that "it won't happen in our lifetime".

          When I first used the Internet in 1982, it seemed almost magical how I could communicate with people and instantly download files from dozens of computers. I mentioned that it would be really slick if everyone had access to something like that. The lab director laughed and said "not in our lifetime".

          Most "not in our lifetime" forecasts underestimate the exponential nature of progress. Once a certain critical mass of knowledge has accumulated, additional progress can be astonishingly fast.

          • I think you're comparing apples to oranges. For every example like the ones you gave, there seem to be just as many like jetpacks and the flying car that have just never happened long, long after everyone assumed they should.

            The way I see it, the difference is all about how clearly dangerous experimentation in a certain field happens to be to human lives and how much infrastructure needs to be built out to make a given iteration of the tech useful. Computer and telecommunications tend to evolve extremely

            • Jetpacks and flying cars are already completely possible. It's only cost and practicality that keeps them at bay.
              Implantable memory even if VERY expensive would be very useful. Why go to college when you can pay $40k
              and have a college degree without also having to give up 4 years of earning potential to get it.

              • "Implantable memory even if VERY expensive would be very useful. Why go to college when you can pay $40k
                and have a college degree without also having to give up 4 years of earning potential to get it."

                I think you seriously underestimate what "VERY expensive" means. That is what such a technology might cost when at the dirt cheap and commonplace level. Anytime in the first 20 years I doubt you'd see a BLANK implant that wasn't priced in the millions.
                • That's assuming you disregard economies of scale.

                  The only reason prosthetics cost a crapload (sometimes upwards of $100,000) is because each one has to be manufactured specifically to match its intended recipient. Kind of like those concept cars that cost millions even though they aren't that much better than something you can already own. 3d printing is dramatically reducing the manufacturing costs and making mass customization available to more things though, so the price of prosthesis is just now beginni

                  • "The only reason prosthetics cost a crapload (sometimes upwards of $100,000) is because each one has to be manufactured specifically to match its intended recipient."

                    That is a factor but not the biggest one. It's about demand. In the US we have a so called medical "free market" so the cost is as much as the market will allow. So, if you are missing a leg, how much is a prosthetic worth to you? You'll find that unlike with say, a stick of gum, the answer will vary dramatically with the key differentiators be
                    • Even if that was the case (which nothing I've ever seen indicates that it is; again, see my concept car example) I think it's vastly preferable to none being available at all.

                    • Agreed it is better than nothing being available at all. But a concept car is dramatically different because it's outside the FDA regulated medical market.

                      The healthcare market in the United States is an especially horrible expensive nightmare. The tax dollars spent (inclusive of tax breaks) providing no healthcare are more per capita than most nations with nationalized healthcare spend providing total coverage per capita. While the care provided generally isn't sub-par and excels in some areas it really is
              • Jetpacks are possible, but probably will never be practical.
                The issue is the energy density of the fuel. If the energy density is low it takes a lot of fuel, which reduces flight time. If the energy density is high, it's a bomb strapped to someone's back, which means adding safety features, which add weight, which reduces flight time.
                Jetpacks have been made, and they do work, but only for short times. You'll never fly around in one like a helicopter, the chemistry simply doesn't support it.
                Sadly, Robbie Roc
      • It will happen that way first. They'll do implantable blank memory, then they'll have ridiculously overpriced modules that are able to communicate wirelessly so that you can copy and record. Then...

        Why don't we just skip the bullshit and put something with both mesh and infrastructure wireless technology in so that it automatically links both to other modules and to a tunneled network in the internet automatically integrating everyones brains into a massive network of shared memory and artificial memory. We
      • by TheLink ( 130905 )
        It's the wrong approach if you just want a prosthetic memory to help people remember stuff.

        To have a prosthetic memory what you need is a computer that can remember stuff - video, audio, photos, text etc. Preferably wearable. Then what you need is to attach a device to appropriate parts of your brain that reads thought patterns that are distinctive depending on what you are thinking (elephants, purple etc). The device does NOT have to decipher or understand what you are thinking. All it needs to do is assoc
  • by Anonymous Coward

    All that's missing is Ice-T, Henry Rollins and a Dolphin with an Oculus rift headset.

  • to get one?

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @01:32PM (#47416911) Homepage
    If this truly life enriching technology comes to fruition I expect America to do that which is most needful and apply it to politicians first. Imagine having an elected represenative with the cognitive ability to make ethical decisions and prudent judgement during legislative sessions that may involve a declaration of war in which american soldiers will often likely return from battle with signifigant brain trauma. This next-generation of politician could one day come to understand the moral and sociopolitical repercussions of things like intentionally shutting down the government. With this helpful medical implant, one could marvel at a world in which the average congressman understands and acknowledges once baron concepts such as the impact of climate change, or even homosexual marriage.
    • by Punko ( 784684 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @01:55PM (#47417123)
      Except that politicians will apply any new cognitive abilities to suit their prime consideration: reelection. What our politicians are interested in is how to make the "country" better. This is not the same as making the country better for its citizens. The metric for how they make the country better is how can they make the country better for themselves. Does this mean I'm lumping all the politicians together, and painting politicians that really are looking out for the greatest good of their citizens with the same brush? Sadly, yes. But I look forward to the 1% proving me wrong.
      • Amen. "Public utilities" run by retired politicians and immune to prosecution; cable companies with "natural monopolies" that sprang up from normal business activity and have nothing to do with financing political campaigns; unions spending 8-figure loans on political campaigns while they call it collective bargaining; etc.
    • by pubwvj ( 1045960 )

      Pigs have neither morality nor ethics although they will espouse both during an election.

    • You make the fatal flaw of assuming that ethics and prudence are the result of higher cognitive ability. Have you considered the possibility that they understand exactly what they are doing and just don't care?

      " This next-generation of politician could one day come to understand the moral and sociopolitical repercussions of things like intentionally shutting down the government."

      You mean like having successfully pandered to your constitutes so that you'll be re-elected and can continue to profit from sellin
  • stop going to war (Score:4, Insightful)

    by asmkm22 ( 1902712 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @01:34PM (#47416931)
    Maybe we should stop sending troops to places where warfare is a national pastime, and start funneling this money into things like income equality and reducing poverty. You know, things that can actually help people improve their own lives.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If you want to eliminate military conflict, you have to address the root causes. Simply refusing to participate doesn't make it stop happening.

    • War kills/maims a lot of people, yes... but as a species, it seems the majority of our technical innovation has been driven by conflict.

  • How obvious is it that, in reality, they want to make killer robots? Start with the synthetic memory, then continue with the synthetic consciousness and put it in a highly sophisticated mechanical armature and you have a killer robot.

    We are doomed.
    • They sure do want to make killer robots but this has little to do with it.

      If you want to look into the dystopian aspects of this technology however, consider the effective intelligence boost that would come with high-capacity, high-reliability memory and then consider the cost of elective brain surgery. Right now the rich aren't any smarter than the rest of us, what if they were!?

      • by konaya ( 2617279 )

        Right now the rich aren't any smarter than the rest of us, what if they were!?

        If they aren't, how come they're rich?

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @01:38PM (#47416965) Homepage
    It is very quick and easy for someone to load a bunch of crap onto a computer. It takes a lot longer to index all that information so that it can be found multiple ways (i.e. to find the word "peanut butter" in a book you can either read the entire book, looking for that word, of if someone has compiled an index at the back, just look there and find it instantly).

    All of the schemes to 'download' information to a human brain ignore indexing. That means if you were to say download a german dictionary to someone's human mind, they could NOT just speak german - nor could they understand it.

    Instead, they would have to laboriously spend hours thinking about every single german word, and eventually teach themselves german, from the memories they had installed.

    Indexing is the creation of relationships. Furthermore memories are not indexed just one way. The word dollar for example is indexed as a currency, as an example of words that begin with the letter d, as a kind of store, as pronunciation, and as rhyming with the word Holler. etc etc. etc.

    Memory is not a simple thing, but a very complex web of connections.

    • Any effort to emulate or restore declarative memory will obviously include emulating the association and activation networks that drive it. Believe it or not, the people doing this kind of research already realize that.

      Nobody is talking about adding a USB port so you can plug a thumb drive into your hippocampus and instantly "know" everything contained on it. That would be great, but there's a lot of other work to do first, as you say.

    • What they're talking about is a somewhat easier task. They don't want to implant new memories, they want NEW ones to be able to form from the user input.

      That's going to be extremely difficult but less so than implanting memories, especially from a source other than you.
    • Instead, they would have to laboriously spend hours thinking about every single german word, and eventually teach themselves german, from the memories they had installed.

      This could still result in learning German in a matter of days vs months. Perfect is the enemy of good, even if everything you say is 100% accurate (and I doubt there's any convincing evidence that the brain works like an indexed database) you could still see orders of magnitude improvement in the time it takes to learn new things.

  • by digsbo ( 1292334 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @01:48PM (#47417065)
    Place false memories in people. Assassins, or just government functionaries who honestly don't believe they did the paperwork to have you audited. No problem.
  • When the program started, we all thought we working on a way to help the injured be able to learn again. But things have been heading a different direction lately. We have a meeting later, those who agree with us. Don't tell Nyder.

    • Would it be possible to book a rendez-vous with the doctor in advance, just in case the operation goes wrong?

  • Who says they need to replace existing memories? Booting up 5 years of flight school after one operation seems like an obvious use of this technology. Downloading a full Chinese or Korean vocabulary would be handy as well. Even if training the muscles took time, having the data local would sure expedite the process. Think of all the roles, military and otherwise that require memorization of facts/processes and the applications of this tech become had to imagine.


  • by tekrat ( 242117 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @01:57PM (#47417135) Homepage Journal

    Jonny Mnemonic is real. Hack the Gibson. I know how you're wired, cowboy. It was hot the night we burnt Chrome.

  • Better still (Score:2, Redundant)

    by mfh ( 56 )

    Let's apply this towards eventually getting Matrix-styled learning models. Eventually we could implant memories of how to perform any skill. We could enable permanent muscle-memory learning instantaneously. Not only learning karate but being able to apply the lessons with strength and precision. Never having to work out to be in shape. Understanding advanced physics without ever taking a course at a university or even having any partial interest in the subject. That's a step towards singularity.

    • Dude! I know kung-fu!
    • "Information is not knowledge." and "Imagination is more important than knowledge." - Albert Einstein.

    • by Falos ( 2905315 )
      I can't tell if you're intentionally describing Dollhouse or not.
    • by konaya ( 2617279 )
      Somehow I imagine remembering doing stuff in a body different to your own will render most practical skills unusable when transferred.
    • *Warning: Dollhouse spoilers ahead*

      Meh, if they can replace all memory then the first step will be better hookers. Why settle for a hooker that knows she only pretends to love you when you can order one who doesn't know it's only pretend?
      Next step will be programmable assasins.
      Third step will be a programmed president. Why bribe the current one when you can replace him with one you own?
      Fourth step will be a bigger problem, but it'll take the a while to figure out how to program people over the phone without

  • If you think DARPA is funding "development of multi-scale computational models with high spatial and temporal resolution that describe how neurons code declarative memories " because they care about veterans and not because they're looking for a more effective way to pull memories from people's minds than water-boarding, you haven't been paying attention to how America treats their military veterans.
  • Do we really want to depend on computers for our knowledge [wikipedia.org] and our memories [wikipedia.org]?

  • by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @02:35PM (#47417545)
    The very last group we want doing this research is one under military control. The potential for abuse is obvious. Does anyone trust the military not to use this technology on soldiers who have not been injured? The potential to create a zombie warrior with no concern for his own survival would be too tempting. Or perhaps one wants an assassin. The idea of helping the mentally impaired is wonderful but let someone other than the military maintain control of this technology.
  • Google* and others should be willing to pour big bucks into the research. We may as well bow to the inevitable and let them build DRM, mandatory personality profile tracking, and advertising insertion right into artificial memory creation standards.

    * New motto: "We'll figure out what 'evil' is and then not do it."

  • I could use a math coprocessor.
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Wednesday July 09, 2014 @03:21PM (#47418081)

    But this damned dog [slashdot.org] keeps following me around, barking.

  • When the mere act of *remembering* something can amount to creating a diigtal copy of it because of a brain implant, can copyright even continue to exist?
    • No you won't be abled to do thought crime, as you will get DRM into your implant. Everything you know will be uploaded to google, and then the "rights owners" can browse through the thoughts of humanity to find and delete "infringing content".

  • Maybe even two, in case one gets broken!
  • A world where Comcast can slow down access to your Cloud Brain unless your Brain provider pays them for the same file transfer you are already paying them for. Damn you future Comcast! Damn you!

  • So you can create a chip with a memory of having been waterboarded 176 times plus the usual amount of testicular electrification and use it on other prisoners?

  • Welcome to crazy bob's cyberspace good stuff emporium where a spot in the matrix will win you one of these awards

  • If we can build it, does that mean we can manipulate it? How soon until I can pirate my doctorate?
  • This would lead to some highly prospective military applications...

    To medicine point of view, I think we may prefer getting regenerative medicine first.

  • ... are formed, then could you algorithmically synthesize that process with your own mind to help you remember things? Seems like this could present a foolproof way to bypass a lie detector if possible, since you could synthesize the memory of the event that you want to lie about, and form it in your brain as if it were a real memory so that you no longer can appear to be lying about it.
  • Is this just a precursor for implanting signals into a brain (totally scifi), but from my understanding encryption and "packet" injection/hijacking is far easier than decryption... so wouldn't it provide "them" the building blocks to push direct data/memories etc into the brain? Just a thought.

    The other thought was this tech in combination with reactionary neural sensory tech (currently available off the shelf) would lead to direct neural interfaces for "their" upcoming Mech's - I prefer that term than the

Riches cover a multitude of woes. -- Menander