How Close Are We to Downloading the Human Brain?

Someday our bodies are going to break down
and we’ll die. Our brain will decay and disappear forever.But,
what if it didn’t have to? Right now there are scientists around the
world working on technology that could one day take your brain, and possibly your consciousness,
and upload it onto a computer. This would be a game changer in neuroscience
and some believe could lead to immortality. So, how close are we to downloading our brains? Okay first off, what do we mean when we say
“downloading the brain?” It’s not plugging a cable into your head
and syncing it with your phone. It is much more complicated than that because,
well, the brain is really, really complicated. The information in a brain is encoded in the
synaptic connections between neurons. This is the major theory of how not only episodic
memories are encoded in the brain, but essentially all learned knowledge, // Now, there’s on
the order of 100 billion neurons in a human brain and each of those neurons has tens of
thousands of connections. You are looking at hundreds of trillions of
those synaptic connections, each of which have been tuned by your life’s experience. So in order to download your brain, each one
of those trillions of connections would have to be precisely scanned, mapped and digitally
reconstructed on a computer as an emulated brain. The idea would be, that this simulation would
not only behave like a biological brain, but could retain the thoughts and memories of
the person whose brain was scanned. Now, all this is great to think about and
makes for interesting dinner conversation, but we have yet to scan a complete human brain
let alone test the theory of consciousness. That’s not to say some progress hasn’t
been made though. There are projects all over the world working
on scanning and simulating brains in the name of healthcare and medicine. This is more about unlocking mysteries of
our brain and less about unlocking the key to immortality. …we don’t really understand a system until
we can build it ourselves and manipulate it in a computer, and really understand all the
pieces and parts. In 2014, researchers scanned a roundworm brain
and made a simulation that they installed into a simple Lego robot. And, the simulated brain moved the robot freely
without any human direction. There have been other projects trying to recreate
the brain through reverse engineering, experiments reading and implanting memories and one group
created an algorithm for large scale human brain simulations. But one of the biggest projects involving
actual brain scanning is taking place at the Allen Institute in Seattle. They have scanned and digitally reconstructed
a cubic millimeter of a mouse brain. Yes, this may not seem like a big deal due
to the small scale, but this is the largest roadmap of connections of a mammalian brain
ever. Now, a cubic millimeter is about the size
of a single grain of sand and is home to 100,000 neurons and over a billion synapses. In order to scan this tiny segment, it first
had to be sectioned 25,000 with each slice being about a fifth the thickness of a human hair.
were taken. Then 10s of millions of images were taken. This gives you an idea of what would need to happen to scan an entire human
brain. That means that mapping a human brain, a million
times larger, would take a fleet of electron microscopes decades in order to image. Obviously the technology is going to have
to change. Perhaps not radically but at least in scale
to make something like this happen. We just don’t have powerful enough microscopes
to be able to accurately and efficiently image entire human brain. And even if we could, the question would still
remain; if we could copy our brain, would that also copy our consciousness? Most neuroscientists would say yes, it’s exactly
the same person if it’s exactly the same thing, but we really don’t know if there’s some other
issue that we’re missing. // Still the question is, is the simulation
at a resolution that is sufficient to capture who you are? The idea is that our thoughts and memories
are basically data, and in theory we should be able to copy that data over to a computer
and you’d still be you. But, what kind of you? …if we made a replication of your brain,
there’s no reason that you’d be living in silence and darkness inside Dropbox. We’d be giving you fake input. In theory, if somebody were a computer simulation
// what it would be like is exactly what this is like for us. You’d look around, you’d say, “Here I am,
I can feel my body, I can taste this drink, I can eat this pizza,” and it in theory wouldn’t
be any different. Or if you want to still experience the real
world, your brain could be installed into a robot. The person opens up their robotic eyes, and
they say, “Wow, I’m still here.” If it works, that’s how it should feel. It should feel like you are coming out of
a surgery and you should be able to call up memories from your past, you should be able
to still remember how to do certain things, you should have the same likes and dislikes… However, advancements in connectomics won’t
come from scientists looking for the fountain of youth. Researchers want to understand the brain better
in order to combat disease and mental disorders. We’d be able to better treat tumors, epilepsy,
addiction and learn more about how we evolved. This is why people are looking to digitally
map the brain. In the end, if we are ever able to upload
someone’s consciousness, it may just be a bonus to these studies. Mind uploading is a very long-term project
of humanity. It’s so long-term that I think most of the
people today that are working on it would not recognize that they’re working on it. The desire is there to scan and map an
entire human brain. That process may lay the groundwork for a
brave volunteer to have their brain removed and digitized which might lead to the first
immortal being. We just have to wait for technology to catch
up with our ambition. So, how close are we to downloading the human
brain? We’re nowhere close. We can’t even download a fruit fly…. We can image small pieces of brain tissue,
or small organisms brains. But, we don’t know enough about how the nervous
system works in order to interpret those images and create a simulation of that. With the technology the we have right now,
we’re nowhere close. But the road seems clear enough to get there,
unless there’s some giant surprise that we run into. It seems like each year as technology gets
better and better, we get higher and higher resolution on what’s going on. It’s a clear path to get there. I mean, unless we already are there and you
are currently watching this in a computer simulated world where nothing around you really
exists. Thanks for watching How Close Are We! Let us know in the comments what topics you want us to cover in future episodes. And if you want more How Close Are We, click here to watch our playlist. And don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe.