Projecting memories a reality?

Imagine being able to scroll through your memories like a social media feed, to be able to perfectly recall everything you’ve ever learned to immediately access every section of your life history. It’s like having access to relive the best experiences of your life and maybe share it with others.

Having a device that will project your memories will revolutionize the education and medical industries as well as the overall lives of the public. Students will be able to revisit lectures whenever they please, patients with memory loss could use this device to be reminded of things they may not be able to remember. The question is, is this possible?

Recently, scientists from UC Berkeley have developed a system to capture visual activity in human brains and reconstruct it as digital video clips. This is the first step in making this dream product a reality. Eventually, this process will allow you to record and reconstruct your own dreams on a computer screen.

Professor Jack Gallant, a UC Berkeley neuroscientist and coauthor of the research published in the journal Current Biology said, “this is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery. We are opening a window into the movies in our minds.”

Today, it’s all about making memories, enjoying and capturing experiences but we’re so busy trying to record them we lose the opportunity to fully appreciate the moment we are currently in. With the memory projector device, there would never be a moment unrecorded: when you have the perfect night, your child takes his first steps you can enjoy the moment without worrying about taking out your smartphone/camera out to capture it. Your eyes are the camera, your brain the memory card and the memory projector your media and medium.

On average a human brain comprises of about one billion neurons. Individually each neuron forms about 1,000 connections to other neurons, equalling to more than a trillion connections. Now doing the math, if each neuron was only capable of helping store a single memory, running out of space would be a problem. You might only have a few gigabytes of storage space, just like in an iPod, a smartphone or a simple USB flash drive. However, neurons combine so that each one helps with many memories at a time, exponentially increasing the brain’s memory storage capacity to something closer to around 2.5 petabytes (or a million gigabytes).

For argument’s sake, if your brain worked like a digital video recorder in a television, 2.5 petabytes would be enough to hold three million hours of TV shows. You would have to leave the TV running continuously for more than 300 years to use up all that storage. That’s a lot of TV. The average lifespan of a human is 79 years, out of the 300 years’ worth of TV the brain stores in-depth memories of an individual with great detail. It is this ability to store detail that this product will benefit from.

However, the brain never ceases to impress us with its mysterious complexities. There is a little twist about the way memories are made. Memory isn’t like a video or film, faithfully recording a sequence of minute details and storing it all intact. Rather, it’s a far more of a complex procedure, which preserves brain space by filtering out minor details while still allowing us to string together relevant information about specific events.

Hence, at a basic level, a memory is a set of circumstances, details and characteristics strung together—the brain can reconstruct events by triggering specific strings in “convergence/divergence zones” and then accessing all the scattered details attached to the string. We begin to lose memories as we age when our brains have too much of certain molecules called beta amyloids. While at low levels these molecules are required for our normal memory system, high levels hurt inter-brain communication.

This information entails that the projector would require the brain to be given the appropriate stimulus to access the right memory at the specified time. Also, as time goes by and age kicks in, the projector may need to inject beta amyloids to ensure the ‘quality’ of the memory remains ‘HD’ or so to say.

UC Berkeley scientists figured out a way to turn the way our brains interpret visual stimuli into a video, and the result is amazing. The researchers used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to measure the blood flow through the brain’s visual cortex. Different parts of the brain were divided into volumetric pixels or voxels. Finally, the scientists built a computational model which describes how visual information is mapped into brain activity.

Research and the efforts of scientists from various institutions are proof that this memory projector can and will be a possibility in the near future. With the continuous advancement of technology and the in-depth knowledge of how the brain works, this dream product will soon be a reality.

Personally, I can see it as a tiny handheld portable device, similar to the size of a smartphone that is wirelessly connected to a set of sensors possibly aligned in a headband that apply the required stimulus to instigate the required memory. Once the memory has formulated the portable projector would project the “movies in our mind” like it would project a regular movie. The person projecting the memory would have full control to showcase only the details/aspects of the memory they are comfortable with – as the projector is connected to their mind they will be able to formulate the memory the way they want too.

This would give a whole new meaning to the concept of ‘home movies and revolutionize our society.

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