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Aaron Jones: Alright ready?
Elise Hu: So just to review, if I get it it'll turn green,
and then if I miss a human subject — a human target — then it grunts.
Jones: Yep.
[grunt]
[camera shutter]
[camera shutter]
[grunt]
Hu: What?
Jones: You have to remember to press the trigger.
Hu: So much grunting.
I can't —
Sorry.
We are exploring the future of the human body
and what humans will be capable of in 2050.
In this episode, memory boosting.
How will super memory work?
What will it mean when we can learn faster and remember better
simply by zapping our brains a little bit?
And what if someone can overwrite your memory and manipulate what's real?
Let's find out in this episode of Future You, with me, Elise Hu.
It is nighttime and we are in the Department of Psychology at the University of New Mexico
and I'm gonna spend the night here, in this self-enclosed space, for two nights.
One night without stimulation to my brain and then the second night with
electrodes connected to my brain. And the reason why is because we're gonna see if
my memory can be improved while I'm sleeping by zapping it.
Vince Clark heads the Psychology Neuroscience Center at the University of New Mexico.
Over the past few years he and his team have tested all sorts of ways to enhance our
brains ability to learn and remember.
In a multi-year study, funded by the U.S. military's research arm DARPA, they made this stunning discovery,
if your brain gets zapped during a certain stage of sleep it boosts your
memory of the day before. How well does this work?
The researchers are letting me give it a try.
Hu: Since this was originally designed for the military the
mental task is a VR game involving shooting photos of human targets that
appear in this desert scene.
Jones: Ok, ready?
Hu: Ok.
Jones: Ok, here we go.
Hu: So I'm looking for humans to move
to take a photo of.
Oh, oh, oh, wait what? Oh my gosh.
Jones: Remember to move your head.
Hu: Oh he grunted.
At first, this is a struggle, but eventually I get the hang of it.
Training complete. Time to go to bed.
Okay I've brushed my teeth.
The only way that I can even access the outside world is through this walkie-talkie.
Otherwise I'm about to go to bed.
So good night for night one. Good night for control night.
I get tested on my memory tomorrow. Bye.
When you close your eyes at night and drift off to sleep,
your brain begins its work on memory consolidation
through four stages of sleep.
Slow-wave sleep — or deep sleep —
helps your brain encode long-term memories.
While you're sleeping, your brain reviews what happened during the day
and it stores information that you received.
The super slow oscillations in your brainwaves coordinate all this.
Researchers found if they hook up your brain, record the slow waves,
use some advanced math to extract the data,
then program a system to stimulate your brain during slow-wave sleep,
the process of storing your memories is noticeably better.
Research subjects who got stimulated at night
have better recall of what they learned the night before.
It's about seven o'clock.
They just woke me up with a walkie-talkie.
So after the first night, I'm tested on this task to get a base of what my memory is like.
This will get compared to my stimulated brain tomorrow.
This is gonna be really quiet without the grunts.
[camera shutter]
To pass the time before night two, we took in a little Albuquerque.
The sunsets makes for memories worth boosting.
Then back in my PJs. This time, the researchers attach
electrodes to my head so they can read my brain signals while I sleep.
Here's my tail.
One more time on the VR game before an overnight memory stimulation.
The researchers have to keep the brain bonnet nice and fitted for the night
so it can correctly read when I'm in deep sleep.
Sleeping in a lab with a bunch of wires attached to my head
is rough, but once I fell into that slow-wave sleep
they stimulated my brain cells with something called tACS
— transcranial alternating-current stimulation.
The technique figures out my brain's frequency for memory encoding,
and then feeds that same current back into my brain to enhance my memories.
Videographer: Are you in bed?
Hu: Yeah.
Videographer: Ok, I'm coming in.
Hu: Good morning.
Bye bonnet. This is the key VR test. After brain stimulation,
will my performance improve? Will my brain have learned something, either
explicitly or subconsciously, to make me better at recognizing targets?
Jones: So let me orient you to the graphs first.
So the figure on the left is your performance from your first day.
Hu: Before we find out, let's put our memory expert and neuroscientist, Vince Clark,
through our scenarios for how this plays out in the year 2050.
What is going to be superhuman about us if we can accelerate our learning and our memories in this way?
Vince Clark: There will be technologies that will allow you to learn things better,
store them better, recall them better later, things like that.
They already exist today. It's just a matter of making it even more effective
and easier to use and inexpensive.
Once you encode memory it's really hard to forget.
And that's probably the reason why we're able to do it because your brain is
actually designed not to encode a memory until you're really sure it's true.
And what we're doing is by boosting that process a little bit we kind of reduce
the threshold that you need in order to be able to encode the memory.
Hu: Yeah let's talk a little bit about that. What are super-villain uses of this?
So, you know, Lex Luther gets this. How is he gonna use this?
Clark: So if he can manipulate how people dream at night,
or how people come up with their stories and
consolidate their memories —
Hu: Will we have memory overwriting capabilities in the future?
Clark: People are working on that too.
It's possible that it could be misused and you could force someone
to have a memory that wasn't really true somehow.
Although it would take a lot more work than — what we're doing now is just enhancing a
natural process. We're not really manipulating details about what you learned at all.
But as we get better that might be possible.
So memory manipulation, it sounds super scary
if our heads can be messed with externally while we're sleeping.
What do you imagine — so if this exists, how do you imagine society will respond?
Have you thought this through?
Clark: So I see different patterns of responses.
My feeling is we're already doing it.
Commercials are designed to change our
feelings and our perspective about products or about things that we could
spend money on. And they're very good at that. They can — a good commercial can
change our culture. So we've been dealing with this for a long time.
Hu: Well, what if a government wants to do that to promote nationalistic ideas or something though. Right?
Clark: Right. Using medication too — I mean experiments with different kinds of medication.
How do you make people placid? Things like that.
Governments have looked at this for a long time.
Hu: What do you expect, Dr. Clark, to be super likely given this technology?
Clark: I think we'll get better at being able to
enhance people's ability to learn. Also things like pay attention of doing
sports and medical treatments like reducing pain. We already have ways using
electricity and magnetism to do that.
Hu: Alright. A very hopeful take. Thank you so much.
How did I do? This surprises me, but somehow my performance improved.
I couldn't explain how I came to hit the targets faster, but I did.
I'm not a true scientific subject though. I'm just trying something that years of
double-blind scientific research with hundreds of subjects bore out.
What does this prove?
Jones: That we can use transcranial stimulation during the night to improve other kinds
of memory not just like, kind of veridical declarative sorts of memory.
Hu: What the research found is stimulation improves memory generalization.
My brain somehow did recognize a pattern that the threats appeared in
and learned it with the help of tiny zaps to my head.
Even if I couldn't explain the pattern out loud, the learning happened.
Pretty cool. Right?
Ok. Checking out. Checking out of the sleep lab.
Oh. This way. Bye.
Bye.
So the possibilities for this — for learning new skills or just remembering better —
are pretty huge. And get this, researchers are already finding evidence
that they don't have to boost your memory while you're asleep.
This is already working in some studies for those who are awake.
How about that for the future you?
We invite you to watch this whole series.
You can watch it on NPR's channel on YouTube
or at npr.org/futureyou.
Ok. Bye.
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The Military Discovered A Way To Boost Soldiers' Memories, And We Tried It | Future You | NPR

10 Folder Collection
cedricchen published on January 5, 2020
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