A Silicon Valley company is looking to break new ground on developments in the ever-mysterious realm of our brain. Kernel, founded in 2016 by Bryan Johnson, is a personally-funded $100 million start-up looking to further understand the sensitive organ, and address neurodegeneration. By developing brain chips that allow you to “buy and delete memories”, Johnson aims not only to help individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, but to unlock the brain’s potential, and make it available to everyone.
The brain chips being developed will aim to perfect the memory, delete unwanted memories, increase the rate of learning, and allow brain-to-brain communication. Furthermore, the brain chip will also allow you to “buy” other people’s memories and see (and experience) them for yourself. This technology, being so far from reality, may seem extremely expensive, but Johnson assures that it will be democratized – like a smartphone. Currently, the brain chips they are developing are focused on helping neurodegenerative diseases like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and other forms of dementia. The company is currently testing it on patients with severe epilepsy.
Johnson, however, doesn’t have expertise in the field of neuroscience. He relies on his contacts and other companies that have already begun research in this delicate field, and have employed personnel such as Theodore Berger, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of South California. Currently Chief Science Officer at Kernel, Berger’s previous research proved that the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory, can be replicated using mathematical modeling and computer software. Other notable Kernel personnel are Chief Scientific Advisor Ed Boyden, professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Chief Strategy Officer Adam Marblestone, a neuroscientist who previously worked with Boyden’s Synthetic Neurobiology Group.
Tackling brain degeneration is one thing, but biomechanical augmentation is another.
Another goal of the group is to allow humans to have the ability to compete with or win against machines and AIs that are overtaking human jobs. For the last decade, however, brain implants can only go so far as to improve physical movements and suppress severe epileptic conditions. No research nor experiments are known to successfully “unlock” the brain or augment its functions, except for an isolated research on a laboratory rat implanted with a brain chip. Alongside the company’s efforts to address brain issues, they are also looking to develop non-invasive technology that can still serve its purpose of degeneration treatment and cognitive augmentation, since not everyone would be so willing to undergo surgery for a tiny chip that doesn’t assure anything as of the moment. Additionally, current technologies limit our access to the brain to be able to gain data and understand the information from it.
This brain technology may sound far-fetched, but Johnson specified a window of 15 to 20 years from now before the technology could be out in the public market. Blake Richards, a neuroscientist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, points out that we have very little understanding of the human brain (compared to animals), and most of our data come from individuals with epilepsy, which is not applicable to most human beings. While this will take years of research and scientific experiments and testing, Johnson focuses on achieving his dreams for the company, even if it takes years and billions of dollars in devotion to it.
While there are a lot of companies out there spending time and money on artificial technologies that have an innocent claim on helping our lives become easier, not a lot of resources are being devoted to natural ways of helping the human body unlock its full capacity. It would make much more sense to eat nuts and seeds to improve cognitive functions, than to have our heads surgically opened and have something unnatural (and probably toxic) put inside. The technology these brain chips have to offer is somewhat amazing, yet provoke more fear, as the brain is one of the most unexplored territories we have yet to understand.