Kurzweilai – Neuroscientist Kenneth Hayworth wants his 100 billion neurons and more than 100 trillion synapses to be encased in a block of transparent, amber-colored resin — before he dies of natural causes.
Hayworth’s brain-preservation and mind-uploading protocol
Before becoming “very sick or very old,” he’ll opt for an “early ‘retirement’ to the future,” he writes. There will be a send-off party with friends and family, followed by a trip to the hospital. After Hayworth is placed under anesthesia, a cocktail of toxic chemicals will be perfused through his still-functioning vascular system, fixing every protein and lipid in his brain into place, preventing decay, and killing him instantly.
Then he will be injected with heavy-metal staining solutions to make his cell membranes visible under a microscope. All of the water will then be drained from his brain and spinal cord, replaced by pure plastic resin.
Every neuron and synapse in his central nervous system will be protected down to the nanometer level, Hayworth says, “the most perfectly preserved fossil imaginable.”
Using a ultramicrotome (like one developed by Hayworth, with a grant by the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience), his plastic-embedded preserved brain will eventually be cut into strips, and then imaged in an electron microscope. The physical brain will be destroyed, but in its place will be a precise map of his connectome.
In 100 years or so, Hayworth says, scientists will be able to determine the function of each neuron and synapse and build a computer simulation of the mind. And because the plastination process will have preserved his spinal nerves, the computer-generated mind can be connected to a robot body.
“This isn’t cryonics, where maybe you have a .001 percent chance of surviving,” he said. “We’ve got a good scientific case for brain preservation and mind uploading.”
The goal of uploading a human mind into a computer is far beyond today’s technology. But exactly how far? Here I review our best cognitive and neuroscience model of the mind and show that it is well suited to provide a framework to answer this question. The model suggests that our unique “software” is mainly digital in nature and is stored redundantly in the brain’s synaptic connectivity matrix (i.e., our Connectome) in a way that should allow a copy to be successfully simulated. I review the resolution necessary for extracting this Connectome and conclude that today’s FIBSEM technique already meets this requirement. I then sketch out a process capable of reducing a chemically-fixed, plastic-embedded brain into a set of tapes containing 20 × 20 micron tissue pillars optimally sized for automated FIBSEM imaging, and show how these tapes could be distributed among a large number of imaging machines to accomplish the task of extracting a Connectome. The scale of such an endeavor makes it impractical, but a version of this scheme utilizing a reduced number of imaging machines would allow for the creation of a “Connectome Observatory” — an important tool for neuroscience and a key milestone for mind uploading.
Kenneth Hayworth with his Automatic Tape-collecting Lathe Ultramicrotome (ATLUM) device (credit: Kenneth Hayworth)