Can we record and view memories like in the black mirror?

Sina science and technology news Beijing time on November 26, according to foreign media reports, the science fiction drama “black mirror” describes a dark future world to us, even some creepy. One episode shows a brain implant device that allows people to record and view their own and other people’s memories. This is really an incredible idea, but also a little scary.

But is it really possible? Or is this just an unlikely scientific fantasy? One day, can we record and re-examine our memories as shown in the black mirror?

All your history

From “total memory” to “Blade Runner”, from the past to the present, “memory” has always been one of the most popular themes in science fiction. The idea of recording memory is not a new concept.

The classic science fiction film “brainstorm” focuses on a technology that can record human sensory experience and emotion. The 1995 film “strange days” showed us a “memory black market”, where people can buy and review other people’s memory records.

A similar scene appeared in the last episode of the first season of the recent science fiction drama solos. In the play, Stuart played by Morgan Freeman is accused of “stealing” his memory by Otto played by Dan Stevens. This episode portrays memory as an intoxicating drug. Stewart is a “memory addict”.

However, the most thought-provoking theme about memory is the third episode of the first season of the black mirror: the entire history of you. Like other episodes in the series, this episode also tries to show us the dark side of technological progress. It seems desirable to never forget anything, but is it really so?

In the society depicted in your whole history, most people have implanted chips called “grains”. This built-in chip can perfectly record what people see and hear. You can also replay your memory with a gadget similar to the remote control. You can even put your memory on a big screen so that others can see it.

What is memory?

Humans have an amazing ability to record and store information in the brain and then retrieve it when necessary. We call this process “memory”.

From a biological point of view, memory occurs when a specific group of neurons are activated. Remembering a memory means reactivating the same set of neurons. The stronger the memory, the closer the connection between neurons; In other words, they have higher synaptic strength.

Memory is the basis of language, individual identity and many other behaviors. Without memory, human beings cannot progress. On the other hand, human memory is notoriously unreliable.

我们的记忆是如何运作的? how does our memory work?

Our senses will constantly collect a large amount of data, but only a small part of it will be preserved for a long time for future memories. But even those data that become long-term memory will eventually be forgotten by us.

With age, all memories degenerate. Even events that we can remember can deviate. We do not reproduce memories, but reconstruct them every time we recall them; This reconstruction can easily lead to errors and distortions.

Memory is dynamic, and the information obtained after an event may affect our memory of the event. This situation is called “false information effect”, which will lead to the distortion of memory. Repeatedly imagining certain behaviors can even lead to the formation of false memories. Even old dreams sometimes produce wrong memories.

Memory is so unreliable, so a system that can give us perfect recall ability certainly has its research value. Scientists have done a lot of research and development on techniques to improve memory and assist brain function. But can we record, retrieve and recall the memory perfectly?

Is it possible to record memory?

“Black mirror” shows us a seamless Full HD memory video. You can replay your memory on demand with the press of a button. Of course, there is no such technology in the world. But there may be in the future. Some researchers have proposed two ways to restore past events.

Record the world around us

The technology depicted in black mirror is actually easier to implement than you think – if you don’t ask to take memory out of your brain.

具有录制功能的智能眼镜和隐形眼镜已经不再只是间谍电影里的东西了 smart glasses and contact lenses with recording function are no longer just things in spy movies

For the first way to restore events, you only need a video and audio recording device that can be implanted into the body, or even a wearable device. Smart glasses with recording function have become a fashion. The newly renamed meta (formerly Facebook) announced that their smart glasses “can record audio and video with a single touch”.

You also need a large enough compressed storage device that can be implanted or carried with you. Contact lenses, or glasses with a screen, can be used to revisit “memory”. In fact, some companies are already designing such contact lenses.

Of course, what we are talking about here is not recording memories, but perfectly recording every moment of the world around us.

Recording of memory

Now, let’s talk about the second way to restore events, that is, memory recording. This means that we have to translate the actual activities of neurons, the images received and processed by the eyes, and the auditory signals collected by the ears into a memory video.

This distinction is very important because the two methods have different applications and meanings.

In 2011, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley preliminarily reconstructed the dynamic visual image of the brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and computational model. In other words, they succeeded in reproducing the clips that people had seen.

This reconstruction is not called “full HD”, but almost illegible. But this has been a great progress. It is possible to record memories and even dreams.

In a 2017 study, scientists implanted electrodes into the brains of patients with amnesia. This “neural prosthesis” records the neural information in the process of memory formation. Then, in memory, these patterns were simulated in the brain through electrodes. Through this process, the researchers recorded improvements in memory performance.

These studies show that recording and replaying memory is not completely impossible. Maybe one day, everyone can record and play back memories on demand through brain implants – although there is still a long way to go.

Application and significance of memory recording

If we can have a perfect memory, we will never forget an important meeting and don’t have to worry about the little things like where the keys are. Crime will also be easier to solve.

However, science fiction also shows us the dark side of this ability. We will fall into a lingering memory cycle and try to solve all doubts with memory. Memory can also become an intoxicating drug that can be resold or stolen. We will always remember hatred.

We can’t forget all the bad things in life. It will be much more difficult to get out of sadness or trauma. Those embarrassing moments that make us ashamed will always be with us.

Selective memory storage can be just as bad. We can refer to the story in the movie “eternal sunshine of the spotlight mind”. Many memories, whether painful or sweet, are precious. If we can choose what to remember or not to remember, the result may not always be what we want.

记忆录制和回放技术将对阿尔茨海默病、痴呆症或脑外伤患者大有帮助 memory recording and playback technology will be of great help to patients with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or brain trauma

The most frightening thing is that this technology may eliminate privacy, resulting in frightening dangers. Comprehensive monitoring will become much easier. Some researchers even published a paper on this issue, detailing a method to integrate privacy protection into “grain” – and similar devices in the future.

However, this technology does not need to be popularized. The best thing about memory recording and reconstruction is that not everyone needs it. If it can become a reality, such technologies may completely change the lives of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or brain trauma. For those suffering from memory loss, if it is possible to revive or retain their memory, it will be a great gospel.

A future world without forgetting?

Striking a balance between moral and social influence and a perfect memory recording and playback scheme is a tricky task. As for the feasibility, with the rapid development of related technologies, this incredible memory recording ability may become a reality in the near future.

The story of black mirror shows us the dark side of things in the future. From another point of view, these dark sides may cause people to fear technology and even lead to paranoid obstacles to technological progress. Therefore, we should learn from well-known stories and act cautiously, but we should not be afraid of new technologies and their potential. (Ren Tian)