HOW CLOSE ARE WE TO DOWNLOADING THE HUMAN BRAIN?

Original article can be found here (source): Artificial Intelligence on Medium

HOW CLOSE ARE WE TO DOWNLOADING THE HUMAN BRAIN?

Human brain is the most complex thing known to mankind. It is ironic to say that we know very little of the one thing that we always had a chance to research upon, but it is true. There are thousands of scientists in various fields like psychology, neurology, robotics, medicine, etc who are working day and night to gain a little more insight on this crown on our head.

Well, what about downloading our brains? Downloading is such a clumsy word and I’m not sure if it fits that well. However, by downloading what I mean is to transfer the data in our brain to a computer. This might sound simple. But in essence, downloading our brain might mean achieving immortality. So, how come we haven’t done it yet? Have we at least tried?

So, here is the thing. To download the information from our brain we need to find, scan, map and digitally reconstruct these data. And where are these data stored? In the synaptic connections between neurons. And if you have ever attended a lecture on neurology, you know that our brain has more than a hundred billion neurons and each of those neurons has thousands of connections. So, we are looking at trillions of information centres to process. And if we can, then it would mean that these information can be collected to form an emulated brain and can retain all the experiences and memories of the person. The question is, can we?

In 2014, researchers scanned a roundworm brain and made a simulation installed into a simple Lego robot. And the simulated brain moved the robot without any human direction. Since then, there have been numerous similar researches and experiments involving scanning our brain, implanting memories, etc. Even though most of them led to failures, we have gained a little experience in the field. The biggest project being undertaken in the field is at the Allen Institute in Ciatel, where the scientists mapped and reconstructed a mouse-brain that is one cubic millimeter in size (about the size of a single grain of sand). This might at first sound like a simple endeavour. But in order to do this, about a million synapses in the brain were sectioned 25,000 times and millions of images were taken. It took a lot of effort from a lot of scientists, for a lot of years with the help of a lot of machines. Tackling the human brain in this approach would require a tonne load of microscopes and a lifetime to spare. Currently, we just don’t have enough sophisticated equipments to even observe our brain to the full extent. Decades have passed since we first transplanted liver, lungs, and heart. But we still haven’t done it with our brain and we are afraid to even try.

So, how close are we to downloading the human brain? According to Kenneth Hayworth, the president of the ‘brain preservation society’, we are nowhere close at the moment. But it is true that we are progressing. The more we understand and unlock the mysteries of our brain, the closer we get to our ambition. But this ambition would also require a co-operation from other fields like engineering, machine learning, medicine, and anthropology to be successful. A holistic approach is what we need. There is nothing more complex than the human brain, and there certainly is nothing more interesting.