Memory Microchip: No Longer Science Fiction

Melanie Gross
Jun 21, 2011
Updated • Dec 4, 2012

Since the days of Star Wars and Star Trek, we’ve dreamed of technological advances that would make us faster, stronger and capable of doing more than ever before. Sure, we’re not quite at the point where we’re teleporting about or living in space “Jetson’s” style, but technology has made some impressive advancements, even in just the last twenty years. Now, it would seem, that Dr. Theodore Berger and his team of scientists at the University of South California’s Viterbi School of engineering have built a microchip that can actually make the wearer (thus far, rats) know things. It’s a chip that is inserted into their brains, almost Matrix style. Sounds pretty interesting, right?

What they’ve done is built a prosthetic chip that uses electrodes to expand and enhance the rat’s memory abilities. After studying chemical interactions that allow short-term learning and memorization they believed they had an idea how to make it work, and they’ve done it. The chip can receive and store neural signals. This allows rats to store what they learn in the devices and as a result, allows them to learn more and to remember it forever.

Dr. Bergers’s description of their success is exciting and, to be frank, maybe a little terrifying:
"Flip the switch on, and the rats remember. Flip it off, and the rats forget [...] These integrated experimental modeling studies show for the first time that with sufficient information about the neural coding of memories, a neural prosthesis capable of real-time identification and manipulation of the encoding process can restore and even enhance cognitive mnemonic processes.”

The implication of such technology is simply staggering. Imagine what this could mean for people with learning disabilities. Think of what it would mean for people affected by Alzheimer’s. The series of experiments being conducted by Dr. Berger’s team are, in a paper, being called “A Cortical Neural Prosthesis for Restoring and Enhancing Memory”. Currently the trials are working on the next step of development, reproducing the same results in monkeys.

It can’t be emphasized enough the astounding positive applications of technology such as this. On the other hand, humanity has a history of twisting profound discoveries into malicious applications (hello, Atom Bomb). If the potential in this technology could be realized for positive applications, the same must be said for its potential for abuse. Think about it, turn it on and it works, turn it off and they forget. I can see it now! Military applications alone would be a frightening thing.

Still, in a world where we see so much suffering, this development by Dr. Berger and his diligent team is surely something worth getting excited about. Treatments for malicious, memory fogging diseases, cognitive issues and more could be possible.
With refinement, it might even change the very face of education. Need to learn a language? No more DVD’s and headphones, folks, you can just download the Portuguese app and be on your way! Ah yes, the possibilities are endless and we’ve got stars in our eyes, waiting to see how this development progresses. You can read more at the source, or download the research paper until July 17 from here.


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  1. Anon said on June 21, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Sorry to ruin it for you but the device the researchers created doesn’t act as memory, it only helps with forming long term memories from existing short term memories.
    It doesnt expand memory; rather it improves the encoding of memories.

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