Making Memories with a Microchip
Friday, November 04, 2011
Ted Berger is trying to build a microchip that can remember things for us. He teaches biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California, and his goal is to create a device that can take over for the hippocampus of the brain, translating thoughts into long-term memories. But that’s a complicated task. “If they’re not transformed the way the hippocampus transforms them,” Berger explains, “then you can’t store them. That’s what it boils down to."
Berger would like to help patients with severe memory loss, but at the moment he’s teaching rats to pull a lever. He studies what happens when the rat learns a task — how the electrical signal of an individual thought moves through its brain.
If scientists can identify the electrical pattern of a thought, could they, one day, implant that thought or memory in another person — like the CIA assassin of The Bourne Identity (or countless other fictions)? Berger doesn’t think so, and he says we should be relieved. “Who we are is in large part defined by what we remember,” he explains. “I mean I don’t want to wake up one day with somebody else’s memories. I want my own, thank you.”