The satirical entrepreneur and comedian Nathan Fielder tweeted an image on Monday that immediately roused speculation that another Nathan For You-esque project could be in the works. Beneath a message saying “Happy near year,” Fielder also shared an image of himself posing in front of an MIT Technology Review story about a startup offering a “100 percent fatal” mind-uploading service called Nectome.
While a company whose main product kills whoever uses it is exactly the kind of farcical business scenario that drove Fielder’s show, Nectome is denying any association with Fielder, at least for now.
In an email to Inverse, co-founder Michael McCanna denies it’s a prank: “No, Nathan Fielder/Nathan for You is not affiliated with Nectome.” In a follow-up email, McCanna writes that no one at the company had been in touch with Fielder to his knowledge, and that he couldn’t comment as to how Fielder found the story or what prompted him to send the tweet.
Many took the image, perhaps with a dash of wishful thinking, as evidence that Fielder would be releasing a fifth season of Nathan For You. In each episode of its four-season run on Comedy Central, Fielder offers struggling entrepreneurs satirical revitalization plans like renaming an unsuccessful coffee shop “Dumb Starbucks.” These plans were occasionally picked up before airing and reported as actual news, as TV Guide notes.
Despite the eye-catching claims about fatality, lots of outlets besides Technology Review reported on the fatal mind-uploading service as well, including TechCrunch, Vanity Fair and Inverse. The company was a graduate of the prestigious Y-Combinator accelerator program and, at one point, boasted an affiliation with MIT.
Y-Combinator didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment about whether any of them had any knowledge of Fielder’s involvement in the project. Fielder didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment made via Twitter either. The reporter behind Technology Review’s story told Inverse in an email that he didn’t “know what to make of it” and “had never heard of Nathan Fielder before now.” As to how the comedian may have found it, he pointed Inverse to the magazine’s roundup of the worst tech of 2018 which featured Nectome prominently.
“The user experience will be identical to physician-assisted suicide,” founder Robert McIntyre reportedly said at the company’s “demo day,” an event to showcase Y-Combinator-backed companies.
As for its MIT affiliation, it appears to have been authentic at one point. The day after April Fool’s Day in 2018, MIT released a statement clarifying that the university was “party to a subcontract under an NIMH small business grant awarded to Nectome,” but that the university was severing the relationship.
One thing’s for sure, there are legitimate enterprises that are exploring similar technology. The Terasem Movement Foundation, for example, is in the midst of carrying out a decades-long experiment to transmit what they call a “mindfile” — hours upon hours of interviews about a person’s background and beliefs — into a robot. Their goal? To investigate the possibility of pursuing immortality by transplanting consciousness.