Series in which Dr David Eagleman takes viewers on an extraordinary journey that explores how the brain, locked in silence and darkness without direct access to the world, conjures up the rich and beautiful world we all take for granted.
In this episode, Dr Eagleman journeys into the future, and asks what’s next for the human brain and for our species. Mother Nature has evolved a brain that is able to rewire itself according to its environment. We meet Cameron Mott, who had half her brain removed at the age of four, but was able to develop normally as her brain rewired itself to take over the functions of the missing half. This extraordinary plasticity of the brain opens up all sorts of possibilities for enhancing our reality with new technology.
Dr Eagleman shows us ways in which we’ll be able to plug new sensory inputs into our brains and demonstrates his lab’s new invention – a vibratory vest which turns sound into patterns of vibration that the brain can learn to interpret. Technology can also allow the brain to control new outputs such as artificial limbs. We meet a disabled patient who can’t move her body from the neck down. Electrodes eavesdropping on her motor cortex pick up on electrical signals there and transmit them to an arm across the room.
We may have evolved two arms and two legs, but there is nothing to stop us from extending – and enhancing – our physical selves in the future. These kinds of technological advances are poised to change us – as individuals and as a society – but the biggest game changer as a species would be if we found a way to upload our brains into digital space. Dr Eagleman explores what it would take to do so. We would need powerful computers, and a complete map of the brain’s connections, as well as the activity that runs on top.
Dr Eagleman visits the Blue Brain Projects in Lausanne, where scientists are attempting to model a simulation of a working human brain. The chance of success is still many years away, but the possibility leads us to the biggest question in neuroscience – could a simulation of a human brain ever be conscious? Could ‘you’ exist digitally? And if so, how do we know we are not already living in a simulation?