MIT Distances Itself from Company that Wants to Upload Your Brain

MIT Distances Itself from Company that Wants to Upload Your Brain
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MIT has decided to distance itself from Nectome, a small biotech firm started by one of its own researchers, Stuart McIntyre. Nectome had big plans to freeze and preserve human brains after death as a way of permanently storing memories.

In mid-March, MIT Technology Review published an article detailing how the company seeks to upload memories to a data-storage system somewhere to achieve immortality of the mind. [1]

Nectome’s goal goes beyond simply storing the contents of the brain, however. The purpose was to be able to reanimate it far into the future. The company believes it’s possible to create a digital version of a person’s memories, essentially allowing his or her life to continue as long as there is minimal damage to the brain. [2], [3]

Nectome claims:

“If memories can truly be preserved by a sufficiently good brain banking technique, we believe that within the century it could become feasible to digitize your preserved brain and use the information to recreate your mind.” [2]

The firm even went so far as to conduct a marketing survey and add more than two dozen people to its waiting list. Eventually, Nectome started inquiring about California’s End of Life Option Act, which makes it legal for doctors to help patients end their lives. This led to headlines proclaiming that Nectome was pitching a service that was “100% fatal” and that to use the service, patients must kill themselves first.

Unsurprisingly, Nectome’s claims, coupled with the bad press, drove MIT away from the company.

It didn’t help that experts were quick to point out that the ethics behind the project were questionable at best. [3]

Sten Linnarsson of the Karolinska Institute told the MIT Technology Review:

“It is so unethical – I can’t describe how unethical it is. That is just not something we do in medical research.” [3]

On 2 April 2018, MIT announced it was partying ways with the company, saying in a press release:

“Upon consideration of the scientific premises underlying the company’s commercial plans, as well as certain public statements that the company has made, MIT has informed Nectome of its intent to terminate the subcontract between MIT and Nectome in accordance with the terms of their agreement.

Neuroscience has not sufficiently advanced to the point where we know whether any brain preservation method is powerful enough to preserve all the different kinds of biomolecules related to memory and the mind. It is also not known whether it is possible to recreate a person’s consciousness.” [1]

The plan had received a great deal of support, with various grants rolling in to fund the project. Nectome even won the Brain Preservation Foundation’s award for its work on preserving synapses in a rabbit brain.

However, according to McIntyre, who invented the brain-preservation technology that Nectome wants to utilize, the whole ‘distancing’ thing is a misunderstanding.

“We appreciate the help which MIT has given us, understand their choice, and wish them the best. As alums, we’re big fans of MIT, and we hope that we can collaborate again in the future.

It’s important to remember that we’re a young neuroscience research company, still in the research phase of building a way to preserve memories. There’s a lot of interest in what this technology will look like in the future, but regardless of the headlines, it’s important to know that we do not currently offer clinical brain preservation, nor do we plan to offer it in the near future.” [2]


[1] Quartz

[2] Gizmodo

[3] UPI