In this month’s issue, h+ Magazine profiles former U.S.C. grad student Ken Hayworth, whose ATLUM2 machine may eventually allow scientists to digitize the human mind. Right now, Hayworth’s device plasticizes mouse brains and slices them into two million pieces.
Using a special slicing device which Ken is also designing, the plasticized brain would be cut into approximately 400 sub-blocks. Each sub-block would then be loaded into Ken’s ATLUM2 and it would be cut into 5,000 incredibly thin slices. Each slice would be picked up on a long carbon-coated tape for later staining and imaging in a scanning electron microscope (SEM). Because the process is fully automated, volumes as large as tens of cubic millimeters (large enough to span entire multi-region neuronal circuits) can be quickly and reliably reduced to a tape of ultrathin sections.
Why would anyone do this?
At first, these devices will be used to section areas of the brain that are of particular interest to the individual researchers. The circuitry could be used to emulate those brain functions, run experiments emulating a brain section, and possibly even test pharmaceuticals or therapies. In the future, we might understand brain circuitry so well that such devices could be used to scan and “upload” an individual’s mind to any type of substrate (a new body, robot, or artificial environment). This Matrix-like immortality would be the ultimate backup of ourselves.
Then again, give robot Bill Kristol infinity and he actually has a chance of getting something right.