When you think about it, the brain is really nothing more than a collection of electrical signals. If we can learn to catalogue those then, in theory, you can upload someone’s mind onto a computer, allowing them to live forever as a digital form of consciousness, just like in the Johnny Depp film Transcendence.
But it’s not just science fiction. Sure, scientists aren’t anywhere near close to achieving such feat with humans (and even if they could, the ethics would be pretty fraught), but now an international team of researchers have managed to do just that with the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans.
C. elegans is a little nematodes that have been extensively studied by scientists - we know all of their genes and their nervous system has been analysed many times.
The ultimate goal of the project is to completely replicate C. elegans as a virtual organism, but for now, they’ve only managed to simulate its brain, and they’ve now uploaded that into a simple Lego robot.
This Lego robot has all the equivalent limited body parts that C. elegans has - a sonar sensor that acts as a nose, and motors that replace its motor neurons on each side of its body.
Amazingly, without any instruction being programmed into the robot, the C. elegans brain upload controlled and move the Lego robot.
Lucy Black writes for I Programmer:
"It is claimed that the robot behaved in ways that are similar to observed C. elegans. Stimulation of the nose stopped forward motion. Touching the anterior and posterior touch sensors made the robot move forward and back accordingly. Stimulating the food sensor made the robot move forward."
This video of the Lego-worm-robot was released by Timothy Busbice, a founder of OpenWorm, showing it moving, stopping and then travelling backwards.
Of course, the brain simulation still isn’t exact - for one, the researchers had to simplify the process that triggers an artificial neuron to fire. But the fact that this robot can move, stop before it bumps into something and reverse using nothing more than a network of connections that mimic a worm’s brain, is pretty incredible.
Scientists are now working out how to map all the connections in the human brain - something called the connectome. Even if we’re not uploading our brains into computers, just being able to simulate a human brain would help to revolutionise artificial intelligence and computers.
And if we could one day get to the point where we can somehow get our minds to escape the vulnerable fleshy meat sacks that currently house them, the opportunities would, quite literally, be mind-blowing.