You will be able to download thoughts – how many terabytes is a brain?

How many times do you check your calendar to remind yourself what you’ve got coming up that week or keep a to-do list on your phone so there’s still milk in the fridge?

It’s easier than ever to outsource your brain to technology, given that we all carry tiny computers with us everywhere we go. You can even speak to it and tell it to remember something for you.

Facebook and Instagram hold your photos, Gmail holds your address book and between Wikipedia, YouTube and a Google search you can have access to almost any piece of human knowledge instantly. You could argue that in 21st century western society we’ve already merged with the machines.

But could we ever get to a place where our entire brain, literally the fabric of who we are, could be downloaded into a machine?

‘This goes beyond the “simple” question of binary data storage,’ neuroscientist Dr Jason McKeown tells  

‘The brain isn’t perfect, and memories aren’t as reliable as you might hope. Memories are regularly amended, they are far from complete, and people tend to overlay significant emotional elements on top.’ 

‘For example, you might remember a time you were scared as a child, but you can probably laugh at it now, some areas will be hazy, and you certainly don’t react the same way. You probably don’t “jump” when you replay the memory in your mind.’

Dr McKeown has helped to develop a headset aimed at tackling weight loss by stimulating the hypothalamus – the part of the brain controlling metabolism.

Stimulating is one thing – but downloading is something else entirely.

‘Even if you could download the memory, what would you be downloading?’ he says.

‘You aren’t downloading the original adrenaline-inducing fright. You are downloading your memory of the memory with all the emotional overlays, edits and imagined additions! So how reliable is that?’

‘This then adds many ethical questions. If you could make a device to upload memories, should it be perfect? Like data on a hard drive? What if it’s been edited? If you select the free version of Top 5 memory uploads 2029’, will there be an ‘in-memory purchase’ to remove the ads?

‘You know… for that favourite soft drink of yours… that you fondly remember drinking in all your childhood memories…Wait…Was that can of coke always there?’

Capturing the myriad thoughts of your brain may not even be the tricky part, because it’s unlikely we’ll have all the digital storage available in which to save it.

Global storage firm Seagate joined with IT research firm International Data Corporation to calculate that in 2016, the world created 16 zettabytes (ZB) of data. A regular hard drive is 1 terabyte (TB) – and a zettabyte is a billion times that.

By 2025, the firms estimate the world will swell to creating 163ZB per year – 20% of that will be critical to people’s lives.

Eventually, even if data can be stored on atoms or fragments of artificial DNA (it’s a current theory) we’re still going to hit the Bekenstein bound, a phrase borrowed from physics describing the upper limit of information that can be stored in a finite amount of space.

So, what’s the current thinking on how much data an actual human brain could store? Well, a bioengineer and geneticist from Harvard’s Wyss Institute managed to successfully store 5.5 petabits of data — around 700 terabytes — in a single gram of DNA.

Roughly speaking, a third of the approximately 20,000 different genes that make up the human genome are active primarily in the brain. Since genes are made up of between a couple hundred and many thousands of strands of DNA, we’re going to go with a round figure of 5,000 DNA strands knocking around in each gene inside your brain. Back-of-the-napkin maths therefore means you’ve got 32.5 million grams of DNA in your brain and thus enough space for 22.7 billion terabytes of data. Although, don’t quote us on that to any serious sciencey types.

Loading data onto genetic information does, therefore, seem like the best possible hope for storing the mountains of thoughts or memories every human creates every day for the future. In fact, we have another Future of Everything piece coming soon that’ll explore this very topic in even more detail.

But still, space – no matter how small – is finite. And another team of international scientists have suggested that even if we crammed data into every subatomical particle on Earth, at the current rate of data generation we’ll run out of space in about 345 years.

One of the scientists on the team, Assistant Professor Anupam Chattopadhyay from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore suggested: ‘Storage is on the way to becoming the next ‘fossil fuel’.’

‘There are many problems that this type of technology will face, but ultimately a significant one is that your thoughts, at a chemical level, are nothing like what your consciousness imagines,’ Dr McKeown tells, like some kind of wise, neurological Yoda.

‘There’s no ‘cinema screen’ inside your head that plays what your eyes see. It’s just chemical reactions swirling around in the dark jelly that makes up your brain. So, it’s not like some crafty young hacker is going to find the back door to the cinema and have a free screening to your every thought.

‘What will most likely happen is that technology allows for more accurate mapping of thought processes, highlighting perhaps that someone is disproportionately anxious or that they think about normal things in strange ways. The biggest benefit here is within the medical field. For example, when dealing with significant mental health issues but the more mainstream application could be in managing stress, sleep, and even mental performance.’

So, rather than worrying about downloading or uploading your entire brain into a computer just yet, it might be an idea to keep a pen and paper handy or just let those thoughts and memories disappear into the ether.

The Future Of Everything

This piece is part of’s series The Future Of Everything.

From OBEs to CEOs, professors to futurologists, economists to social theorists, politicians to multi-award winning academics, we think we’ve got the future covered, away from the doom mongering or easy Minority Report references.

Every weekday, we’re explaining what’s likely (or not likely) to happen.

Talk to us using the hashtag #futureofeverything  If you think you can predict the future better than we can or you think there’s something we should cover we might have missed, get in touch: [email protected] or [email protected]

Read every Future Of Everything story so far

Source: Read Full Article