Nectome startup offers customers freeze their brain for digitization in the distant future

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For a couple of decades, cryonics has been gaining popularity . This is a technology for freezing people who have just died in liquid nitrogen. The authors of this idea and their followers (including many patients with very serious, incurable diseases) believe that in the future there should be a technology for defrosting living organisms with a complex organization. Therefore, people who are terminally ill are encouraged to freeze their body so that when a way to cure the disease appears, the client can be revived and cured.

About 20 years ago, the first cryonics company appeared. Now there are a lot of them, and each has to come up with something original in order to stand out among competitors. In Russia, by the way, such organizations also exist, although there are not so many of them. When frozen, customers retain the brain so that in the future, if they thaw, they retain their lifelong abilities. According to the creators of such companies, people come in all sorts of different ways - both patients of clinics with a disappointing diagnosis, and pet owners who want to save their pets forever.

Actually, one does not have to be surprised that someone voluntarily agrees to, in fact, euthanasia, because cryonics in many cases is the last chance, albeit a very unusual one.

Prices for the services of "cryomedics" can be very different. For example, one of the Russian companies takes 12 thousand US dollars for its services. This is just a frozen state of the brain. The price tag for freezing and storing the body with the head is $ 36 thousand, saving the animal from $ 12 thousand. Naturally, the clients of such companies are wealthy people.

Well, since there is money in this area, the market is expanding, more and more organizations are starting to offer similar services. Some of these companies decide to engage in a certain “niche cryobusiness”. One such company is Nectome . She works in the USA, and her main goal is to preserve the brain of her clients for digitization. In other words, customers are given the chance to live forever in the digital space. It is clear that now there is no such technology, so they are going to use it in the future, after the appearance.

At the same time, the company's management recognizes that the brain freezing procedure is completely fatal at the moment, it will not work with modern technologies to revive the body of a person who has undergone such a procedure. But this is not required, since the main idea is to create digital copies of people. The Y Combinator team liked the project so much that the startup was singled out among a large number of purely technological companies.

Digitization of the brain, or rather, human consciousness - an idea that excites the imagination of many people. Among others - Raymond Kurzweil . This idea is shown in some films and books (in the series “Black Mirror” the question is also raised). Indeed, if you imagine that the human consciousness has learned to digitize, it becomes clear that we are talking about immortality, one of its forms.

By the way, Nectome is not a “one-day company,” in any case, many specialists work with it. One of them, Edward Boyden, is a leading neuroscientist at MIT. In addition, the company received sponsorship from the authorities of one of the US states.

However, some scientists question the performance of the company model. In their opinion, giving your brain to a certain company that is going to keep it frozen for many years is not a good idea. In addition, a large number of ethical and philosophical questions arise, which are not so easy to answer.

In general, the procedure for extracting the human brain for subsequent digitization (it is not known how far the future is) for the client will not differ from euthanasia. The only thing that distinguishes Nectome from the existing “services” of euthanasia is that after the death, the brain is removed from the client, which freezes. Many believe that in the future, the digitization procedure will be truly available.

Despite the fact that the service already exists and offers its services, the “brain storage” is not yet ready and will not be ready in the next few years. In addition, there is no guarantee that the frozen brain will retain memory and everything that forms a personality (which, by the way, is unknown). Nevertheless, the company, without a twinge of conscience, announced that it will work according to the example of Tesla , which asked for an advance payment when pre-ordering electric cars that were not yet manufactured. True, unlike a real product, Nectome actually sells air. And for pre-ordering, he asks not $ 1000, but ten times more than Tesla. True, customers who change their mind are promised a refund.

At the moment, there are already 25 gullible customers who have allocated funds in full. One of them is Sam Altman , a 32-year-old investor, co-founder of Y Combinator. In his opinion, a company that promises to digitize the human brain will be able to achieve real results as technology develops.

The development of a server where all information about the frozen brain of patients will be stored will take several years. This is not such a simple process, so scientists will have to tinker a lot. The main problem is that, as far as one can judge, the brain is irreversibly damaged when frozen.

New - well forgotten old


The idea of ​​storing bodies or individual organs in frozen form is far from new. Organizations that are engaged in the freezing and further storage of bodies have existed for a couple of decades. One of the most famous companies of this kind is the Alcor Life Extension Foundation . Its cryocontainers store 150 bodies and heads of customers separately from the body, frozen with liquid nitrogen. One of the bodies belongs to a former athlete, the famous baseball player Ted Williams. Freezing with the promise to thaw the body and cure it is carried out despite the fact that scientists do not know how much freezing at ultralow temperatures affects individual organs and the brain.

21st Century Medicine was founded a few years ago. The purpose of the founders is to clarify the situation with damages from ultra-low temperatures. The scientists who founded this company created, among other things, a new combined method of freezing , combined with embalming. He proved his effectiveness, if only because there is no visible damage to the brain with this method of freezing. Specialists checked not only the condition of the tissues, but also the synapses of the individual neurons, the connection. It turned out that there were no visible damages.

According to neuroscientists, the connection of a single person can serve to decrypt / store his personality. Of this, in particular, Ken Hayworth, a neurobiologist who is president of the Brain Preservation Foundation, is confident. The organization rewarded the founders of 21st Century Medicine for the almost complete preservation of the pig’s brain, which scientists froze using their own method.

Most interesting is that the brain may not need to be thawed for digitization. “When the brain is dead, it can be compared to a turned off computer that still stores the necessary information on the hard drive,” says Hayworth. Of course, the comparison is very, very approximate, it cannot be called correct. But the founders of the service operate with just such concepts.

They believe that information can be extracted if you build a digital copy of a frozen brain, taking into account all, absolutely all connections. But there are a huge number of them. Now even studying the brain of the mouse is a difficult task, let alone the human brain. “Perhaps we can implement these plans in 100 years,” says Hayworth. He himself claims that if he once finds out that he is mortally ill, he will choose the euthanasia, which he himself invented, in the hope that his brain can be digitized in the future.

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The seriousness of their intentions was recently demonstrated by representatives of Nectome. They were able to get the body of a deceased elderly woman, and removed her brain just 2.5 hours after death. The brain was frozen in order to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology. This was the first demonstration of a method called aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation.

The body was obtained from Aeternitas. She manages the bodies of people who bequeathed their mortal shell to science. Age, causes of death and other details are not indicated in order to avoid disclosing the identity of the deceased. The preparation procedure lasts about six hours, all necessary actions are carried out in the morgue. According to the creators of the technology, all this can be considered as embalming, preserving not only external signs, but also internal contents, that is, the person’s personality. The woman’s brain was prepared very carefully and after freezing became one of the “pioneers” of the Nectome service.

After the procedure, it was divided into the thinnest plates photographed using an electron microscope. All this is necessary in order to obtain images of all elements of the brain, including the most delicate connections between individual cells. Only in this case can the brain be digitized, albeit in the future.

Despite the somewhat skeptical attitude of scientists towards Nectome, the company managed to get substantial funding. For example, $ 960,000 was provided by the National Institute of Mental Health (National Institute Eng. Of Mental Health). The startup received another $ 100,000 from Y combinator.

It was said above that many scientists are skeptical of the startup initiative. The problem is that now we do not know what constitutes human consciousness. So there is no guarantee that by digitizing the images taken by an electron microscope (even if all this is done without the slightest disturbance and very carefully), the brain will act as a computer model. And it is not clear exactly when technologies will appear that will allow the digitization process. She is extremely complex. Computer technology that is capable of processing all this information by creating a digital model will appear very soon, if at all.