A Memory Upgrade

Scientists around the world are focused on studying (and even copying) how the human brain works; however, this vital organ is afflicted by a plethora of horrible diseases—many of which, despite our advancing knowledge, we are still unable to successfully combat. Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and epilepsy are just some of the conditions that we must contend with.

We don’t know how to fix this biologically, but what if there was a technology that could help the brain cope with these afflictions? One area in particular is showing promise in this regard.

Meet Kernel, a startup that has a particularly high aim: Creating a brain prosthesis that can help those with memory problems. Founded by Bryan Johnson, Kernel hopes to be able to develop tiny brain implants that stimulate the learning and memory centers of the brain, restoring the ability to store long-term memory to those who have lost it.

This startup is leveraging the findings of  Theodore Berger, director of the Center for Neural Engineering at the University of Southern California, for their work. Berger has been studying the way that electrical signals fire-up during the learning and memory encoding process, so the unification seems only natural (Berger is serving as Kernel’s Chief Science Officer).

Memory Enhancer

Berger’s approach for building the chip first relies on mapping how neurons react and store new data. From there, we can use the information to create devices that mimic these vital brain functions.

Specifically, this method uses electrodes implanted in the hippocampus to record the electrical signals from target neurons when new information is fed to the person, and those signals for encoding the memory.

Ted Berger

This allows Berger and his team to create mathematical models that take in learning signals as input, and produce the counterpart memory signal as output.

Any such device to exploit this method would have to have the electrodes that record learning signals, a microprocessor that calculates using the mathematical model, and other electrodes that stimulate neurons for the proper memory signals.

This will be no small feat. But notably, groups such as DARPA have expressed interest in the research, and human trials involving hospitalized epilepsy patients are already underway. It is a brave new world, indeed.

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