This Startup Wants to Preserve Your Brain and Upload Your Mind to a Computer with a Product That's '100% Fatal'

If you've ever wanted to live forever, the idea of uploading your mind to a computer simulation may sound appealing.

While the technology to make this possible does not exist yet, a new startup called Nectome is promising to do just that—someday.

The company's plans, still in their initial phases, involve injecting the brain with a special formula, in a technique known as aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation (ACS). This will preserve the neural connections thought by some neuroscientists to encode a person's mind, potentially for hundreds of years.

The hope is that, eventually, it will be feasible to "digitize this information" and use it to "recreate your consciousness," according to the company's website. It might provide a glimmer of hope to terminally ill people, for example, who want their consciousness to live on.

The catch, however, is that the product is "100% fatal," Nectome co-founder Robert McIntyre told MIT Technology Review. Anyone undergoing the procedure would need to be alive to ensure that the brain is not damaged, although the injection of the preservation chemicals will swiftly result in death. This presents a number of ethical and legal dilemmas.

McIntyre said the company had consulted with lawyers familiar with assisted suicide laws, such as California's End of Life Option Act, who were confident the service would be legal.

Will mind uploading ever become a reality? A new startup called Nectome thinks so and is planning to use a technique called aldehyde-stabilized cryopreservation. Pixabay

Currently, you can add yourself to Nectome's waiting list for a refundable deposit of $10,000 in order to be one of the first to undergo the procedure, if and when the service becomes available. Twenty-five people have already jumped at the chance to sign up.

It may sound like a crazy idea, but the company deserves to be taken seriously. Nectome has been given more than a million dollars in federal grants by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health and is collaborating with top MIT neuroscientist Edward Boyden.

Recently, Nectome won an $80,000 prize awarded by the Brain Preservation Foundation (BPF) for successfully preserving the connectome—the entirety of the trillions of neural connections in the brain—of a large mammal (a pig) for the first time ever.

It is important to note that Nectome's researchers did not revive a pig or its brain. The chemicals used to conduct the preservation are toxic, severely limiting the chances that the brain could ever be revived biologically. But being able to preserve the brain's connectome may, one day, allow for the future digital revival of the mind.

"A growing number of scientists and technologists believe that future technology may be capable of scanning a preserved brain's connectome and using it as the basis for constructing a whole brain emulation, thereby uploading that person's mind into a computer controlling a robotic, virtual, or synthetic body," a BPF statement on the awarding of the prize read.

Nectome's service will likely not be ready for several years, and the technology needed to effectively digitize a mind is still a long way away. Crucially, there is also a lack of evidence demonstrating that memories can be stored in dead brain tissue. Furthermore, no one really knows what consciousness actually consists of and what brain structures or other biological details need to be retained to effectively preserve the mind.

"Those who dismiss the possibility of future mind uploading will likely view ASC as simply the high-quality embalming and cold storage of a deceased body—an utter waste of time and resources," the BPF statement admitted.

"On the other hand, those who expect that humanity will eventually develop mind uploading technology are more likely to view ASC as perhaps their best chance to survive and reach that future world," the statement continued. "It may take decades or even centuries to develop the technology to upload minds if it is even possible at all."