brain

Neuroscience startup Nectome wants to harvest your brain for science. The nascent company, which is a member of famed incubator Y Combinator’s winter 2018 class, is focused on preserving brains for future computer upload.

Why Does Nectome Want My Brain?

“Our mission is to preserve your brain well enough to keep all its memories intact: from that great chapter of your favorite book to the feeling of cold winter air, baking an apple pie, or having dinner with your friends and family,” Nectome’s website says. “We believe that within the current century it will be feasible to digitize this information and use it to recreate your consciousness.”

Digitizing consciousness is a familiar theme from science fiction works, but Nectome thinks that sometime in the next 80 years, it will actually become an attainable feat. The company hopes to kickstart the process by perfectly preserving the connectome, or the totality of connections between neurons and synapses in the brain. The idea is that in the future, neuroscientists will have the ability to read connectomes like databases and translate the structural components of the connectome into a consciousness that lives in a computer.

How Does Preservation Work?

To preserve the brain, Nectome uses a process called aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation. Essentially, it’s high-tech embalming — or a modern version of Egyptian mummification.

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The connectome is made up of more than 100 trillion connections.

But in order to achieve perfect preservation, Nectome requires a fresh brain that won’t be needed much longer. In a story published in Technology Review on Tuesday, cofounder Robert McIntyre said that the process is “100 percent fatal.” To that end, the startup is marketing its service to people in end-of-life care.

Why Would Anyone Want this Morbid Service?

Their logic is simple and rather hubristic: If you’re about to die anyway, you might as well let us take your brain and possibly reinvent your consciousness sometime in the future. Interested parties can sign up on a waitlist with a fully refundable $10,000 deposit. Y Combinator founder Sam Altman is already on board, as are 24 other intrepid individuals.

But not everyone is enthused by Nectome’s mission. In the same Technology Review story, neuroscientist Michael Hendricks decried Nectome’s plan as a shortsighted attempt at innovation that isn’t worth the cost and effort.

“Burdening future generations with our brain banks is just comically arrogant. Aren’t we leaving them with enough problems?” Hendricks said. “I hope future people are appalled that in the 21st century, the richest and most comfortable people in history spent their money and resources trying to live forever on the backs of their descendants. I mean, it’s a joke, right? They are cartoon bad guys.”

Cartoon bad guys, perhaps. But they aren’t the first, and they probably won’t be the last. The allure of immortality is just too hard to ignore.