By now, it’s becoming possible to replicate small areas of the brain with “neural prostheses” in order to repair damage from Alzheimer’s, stroke or injury. This includes the restoration of lost memories. These devices can mimic the electrochemical signals from regions like the hippocampus (involved in consolidation of information from short-term to long-term memory, as well as spatial navigation).
Experiments were initially conducted on rodents,* then monkeys,* before moving to human volunteers in 2015.* After eight years of clinical studies, the process can now be safely performed in hospitals. Electrode arrays are first used to record the activity of healthy brain tissue. The unique patterns responsible for creating memories are detected and stored by a computer. These patterns are then used to predict what the “downstream” damaged areas should be doing. Finally, the desired activity in healthy areas can be replicated by stimulating brain cells with electrodes. The neural prosthesis therefore bridges the gap from healthy to damaged areas.
A combination of these memory implants and drugs can treat early dementia and memory loss. In patients with advanced Alzheimer’s, however, the neural signals are usually too degraded for a successful outcome. Nevertheless, this new treatment is a significant step forward in understanding the brain. Eventually, it will be possible to mimic entire regions – bypassing the hippocampus, for example – with complex functions being replaced entirely by electrode signals. Further into the future, as neural implants continue to improve in power, this will pave the way for uploading of minds into computer substrates.*