There are a lot of things your  brain doesn't do well as you age--like remember. A startup named Kernel aims to create brain implants that can repair your aging brain with software boosters on a chip. They call these chips neuroprosthetics or cognitive prosthetics. They've already been shown to work in monkeys.

"We're testing it in humans now, and getting good initial results," Kernel cofounder and professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California, Ted Berger recently reported. "We're going to go forward with the goal of commercializing this prosthesis."

He explained to IEEE, "It's like translating Russian to Chinese when you don't know either language. We don't want to know either language; we just want to know how this pattern becomes that pattern."

Memory boost via brain implant

Startups that can bolster faulty brain signals and other ideas from the edge of science fiction are the life work of entrepreneur and investor Bryan Johnson. In 2013, he sold his company Braintree to PayPal for $800 million. Since then, he's taken a sizeable portion of his personal fortune and invested it in making "crazy ideas" commercially viable.

"I was raised within a belief system that taught me the world was fixed, predestined to evolve along a certain path," he writes on his blog. Bryan was born in Utah and raised a Morman who attended Brigham Young University. "My responsibility was to play by the rules, not become a creator of them. The discovery that we can program our existence and author our own lives has radically altered my life ."

Bryan's need to help create a better world dates back at least until his two years as a missionary. "I reflected upon the promise I'd made to myself when I was 21. I had just returned from two years in rural Ecuador. It was there, living and working with people who were shackled by extreme poverty, that I decided to devote my life to improving the lives of others."

Hacking the aging human

Since 1900, global life expectancy has more than doubled.As people live longer, aging and the diseases and quality of life associated with aging are becoming more expensive.  "We're living longer, so aging problems, and cognitive problems in particular, are going to be more and more prevalent," says Berger. "The cost of a cognitive prosthetic will pale in comparison to taking care of a person with dementia for 20 years."

Bryan is tackling these kinds of issues. "In the same way that a computer has an operating system at its core--dictating the way it works and serving as a foundation upon which all applications are built--everything in life has an operating system." This concept of investing in the operation system of life--the OS--is why he named the fund based on his personal fortune the OS Fund. It is investing in a couple dozen companies that are making significant progress engineering the code of life, including life sciences startups like uBiome and Gingko Bioworks, and AI startups like Viv.

Brain science is big business

Bryan is far from alone in pouring significant dollars into new ways to improve the human animal. President Obama, for example, announced the Brain Initiative in 2013. It puts hundreds of millions into analyzing brain activity. In Europe, the Human Brain Project simulates brain behavior in order to build reliable models. Just last month, NIH gave notice that it's opening its restrictions on funding human-animal chimera research.

"The beauty and promise of entrepreneurship is that you get to author the world you live in," writes Bryan. He invites you to explore the world he's working on in a new video series, Explorations with Bryan Johnson.

 

Published on: Sep 6, 2016
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