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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Total Recall Brain Chip Implant

What would you do to have a memory chip implanted in your brain if that chip will double the capacity of your short-term memory? Or guarantee that you would never again forget a face or a name?

All this becomes even more poignant when you compare our memories to those of the average laptop. Whereas it takes the average human child weeks or even months or years to memorize something as simple as a multiplication table, any modern computer can memorize any table in an instant — and never forget it. Why can’t we do the same?

In the best-case situation, this process works well: the particular memory we need just “pops” into our minds, automatically and effortlessly. The catch, however, is that our memories can easily get confused, especially when a given set of cues points to more than one memory. What we remember at any given moment depends heavily on the accidents of which bits of mental flotsam and jetsam happen to be active at that instant. Our mood, our environment, even our posture can all influence our delicate memories. To take but one example, studies suggest that if you learn a word while you happen to be slouching, you’ll be better able to remember that word at a later time if you are slouching than if you happen to be standing upright.

However difficult the practicalities, there’s no reason in principle why a future generation of neural prostheticists couldn’t pick up where nature left off, incorporating Google-like master maps into neural implants. This in turn would allow us to search our own memories — not just those on the Web — with something like the efficiency and reliability of a computer search engine.

Would this turn us into computers? Not at all. A neural implant equipped with a master memory map wouldn’t impair our capacity to think, or to feel, to love or to laugh; it wouldn’t change the nature of what we chose to remember; and it wouldn’t necessarily even expand the sheer size of our memory banks. But then again our problem has never been how much information we could store in our memories; it’s always been in getting that information back out — which is precisely where taking a clue from computer memory could help.

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