Live Forever with a Digital Brain: Nectome’s Journey Beyond Life

Nectome emerges with a groundbreaking yet contentious plan to upload and preserve human minds, promising a form of digital life after death. Dive into the science and ethics of this futuristic venture.

Live Forever with a Digital Brain: Nectome’s Journey Beyond Life

Wednesday December 20, 2023,

3 min Read

Nectome, a trailblazing startup nurtured in the Y Combinator accelerator, is embarking on an audacious journey into the realm of mind uploading. At the helm is Robert McIntyre, an MIT graduate who plans to showcase a revolutionary technology for preserving brains in microscopic detail. The procedure, a fusion of high-tech embalming and cryonics, is designed to maintain brains in a state akin to frozen glass for centuries, perhaps millennia.

The Ultimate Backup Plan

Imagine a future where your brain, with all its memories and consciousness, could be scanned and replicated in a digital realm. Nectome proposes exactly that, promising a semblance of immortality in a data server. Their website tantalisingly asks, “What if we could back up your mind?”

A Grisly Catch

However, Nectome's technology comes with a grim caveat: the preservation process requires the brain to be fresh, which means the procedure is unavoidably fatal. The company is exploring legal avenues, particularly in light of California’s End of Life Option Act, to offer this service to those with terminal illnesses.

A Glimpse into the Future

Nectome’s approach has already garnered significant attention, winning a substantial federal grant and collaborating with notable neuroscientists like Edward Boyden at MIT. Their method has demonstrated remarkable success, evidenced by their ability to preserve a pig’s brain in such detail that each synapse is visible.

The Ethical Conundrum

The concept of brain preservation and uploading raises profound ethical questions. Nectome's service, while still in development, straddles a delicate line between innovative science and the moral implications of essentially choosing a point of death for brain preservation.

The Legacy of Brain Storage

The idea of brain storage isn’t novel – organisations like the Alcor Life Extension Foundation have been cryopreserving bodies and brains for years. However, Nectome’s method differs significantly, focusing on preserving the brain’s intricate structure and information rather than on the prospect of physical revival.

The Prospect of Digital Immortality

Central to Nectome's philosophy is the belief that a digital copy of a brain could extend a person's existence beyond physical death. McIntyre argues that such a copy, while not having lived the person's life, would be a continuation of their identity and experiences.

The Road Ahead

Despite the controversies and challenges, Nectome continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible in neuroscience and memory preservation. The prospect of creating a new era of living memory, where historical information is preserved with unprecedented fidelity, propels their mission forward. As society grapples with the ethical, technological, and philosophical implications of such advancements, Nectome stands at the forefront, a testament to human ingenuity and the relentless pursuit of what lies beyond the known horizons.