Steven Adams | The Daily Mail | Source URL
It’s a dream long held by science-fiction writers: that one day we will be able to erase painful memories and create happy ones.
But now scientists at Oxford University say that fiction is closer to reality than we might have thought.
For they are on the cusp of developing technology that will enable us to rub out difficult episodes from the past, and make the best ones even better.
By electronically tinkering with brain waves that cement our memories in place, we may soon be able to treat conditions including amnesia and post-traumatic stress disorder by removing what causes us distress altogether, said researcher Laurie Pycroft.
Using the same techniques we will be able to insert what are being described as ‘memory prostheses’ to enhance our recollections or even create new ones.
The idea was the basis for the 1990 film Total Recall, based on a short story by Philip K Dick, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character Douglas Quaid takes a virtual vacation – only to discover the life he thought he was leading was a lie.
Mr Pycroft, a doctoral researcher and expert in implantable neuromodulation devices at Oxford’s Functional Neurosurgery Group, said: ‘Memory implants are a real and exciting prospect, offering significant healthcare benefits.
‘The prospect of being able to alter and enhance our memories with electrodes may sound like fiction.
‘But it is based on solid science, the foundations of which already exist today.
‘Memory prostheses are only a question of time.’
The ability to electronically record the brainwaves that build memories and then enhance or even rewrite them before putting them ‘back’ may be just a decade away, say experts.
But there is a dark side: cyber-attackers may one day be able to remotely steal our memories or even implant fake ones by targeting the mind-reading devices.
Dmitry Galov, of cyber-security company Kaspersky Lab, which is collaborating with Oxford, said: ‘Although no attacks targeting neurostimulators have been observed in the wild, points of weakness exist that will not be hard to exploit.’
The Oxford Functional Neurosurgery Group is already using neuro-stimulators embedded in the brains of patients to alleviate the symptoms of various illnesses.
The surgically implanted devices, which resemble heart pacemakers, deliver small pulses of electricity to the target area of the brain or spinal cord.
For example, targeting a deep brain structure called the subthalamic nucleus can relieve stiffness, slowness of movement and tremor in people with Parkinson’s.