In the next few months, DARPA will reveal new advances in the development of a brain implant which will restore lost memories. The implant could help those having received head trauma, as well as people suffering from alzheimer’s and dementia.
The research by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), is being conducted as part of President Barack Obama’s $100 million initiative to better understand the human brain.
“We think that we can develop neuroprosthetic devices that can directly interface with the hippocampus, and can restore the first type of memories we are looking at, the declarative memories,” said program manager Justin Sanchez. Declarative memories are recollections of people, events, facts and figures, which no other research has yet been able to restore.
Previous attempts at memory restoration have involved deep brain stimulation, using electrical pulsing.
According to Robert Hampson, an associate professor at Wake Forest University, to restore a human’s specific memory, scientists would have to know the precise pattern for that memory. So simply pulsing bursts of electricity in the brain would not restore targeted memories.
“For us to come up with a memory prosthetic, we would actually have to have something that delivers specific patterns,” said Hampson, while unable to comment specifically on DARPA’s plans.
Hampson continues, “the idea is to restore a function back to normal or near normal of the memory processing areas of the brain, so that the person can access their formed memories, and so that they can form new memories as needed”.
In order to restore memories then, you have to go beyond simply stimulating the brain with an increase of electrical pulses. Instead you have to specially direct and pattern the pulses. Whether that would act to induce partial memories, or restore full memories, is unclear. The ethical concerns would then arise if only partial memories would be restored; for that would alter the mind indiscriminately.
DARPA synthetic biology advisor, Arthur Caplan has said, “when you fool around with the brain you are fooling around with personal identity … The cost of altering the mind is you risk losing sense of self, and that is a new kind of risk we never faced”. He goes on to ask interestingly that people who have had the memories ‘altered’… would they still be responsible for their actions thereafter?
We will deliver further news, and address relevant ethical issues, once DARPA unveils the technology. Follow us on Facebook to keep updated…