DARPA is seeking proposals to develop super learning and enhanced memory technologies for use in humans.
The Restoring Active Memory Replay or RAM Replay program from the DARPA Biology is Technology program office will investigate the role of neural “replay” in the formation and recall of memory with the goal of developing methods of helping individuals better remember both specific events and learned skills. The 24-month fundamental research program is seeking to develop novel methods to determine not only which brain components matter in memory formation and recall but also how much they matter and the goal is to apply this knowledge to radically improve learning and memory.
“Military personnel carry a growing responsibility to recount, report and act upon knowledge gleaned from previous experiences, and how well those experiences are recalled can make all the difference in how well these individuals perform in combat and other challenging situations,” said Dr. Justin Sanchez, DARPA program manager.
It is known that human memory is the result of biological processes that produce and strengthen neural connections in the brain. Further, it is known that multiple mechanisms are involved in memory formation and recall of memories including brain networks that nominally are thought to govern perception, attention and emotion rather than memory. Through a process known as consolidation, representations of experiences are stored in long-term memory and integrated with older knowledge and memories.
Stored memories are not static, and as DARPA’s Sanchez also noted, are subject to changes over time. “The timeframe between a given experience and subsequent reporting or use of the memory can range from hours to months to years. During this time, physiological, environmental and behavioral factors can affect the process by which an individual’s representation of the experience is consolidated into memory, potentially affecting the accessibility and accuracy of the memory and one’s ability to make use of ‘lessons learned’ later on.”
Studies investigating the mechanisms of memory formation, consolidation, and retrieval have suggested that memory representations in the brain are repeatedly “reactivated” following initial encoding, and this process occurs unconsciously during both wakefulness and sleep. Memory reactivation has been linked to the process of “neural replay” during which patterns of neural activity reflect the patterns of activity that occurred during initial encoding of the memory. The frequency of reactivation and other factors can affect subsequent task performance specifically on tasks designed to assess memory recall and performance of learned skills.
While some human studies have already investigated enhancement of subsequent memory recall by presentation of sensory cues or transcranial stimulation during sleep, DARPA seeks to expand the horizons of what is possible by “harnessing the brain’s own replay system to improve the strength and fidelity of memory”.
“Unconventional memory aids are everywhere today, from simple mnemonics to sophisticated smartphone apps. But many of these techniques focus on just a few of the many aspects that influence memory,” said Sanchez. “In the long run, we hope RAM Replay will identify core memory-strengthening mechanisms and give rise to a generalizable set of solutions applicable to the challenge of memory reliability in an increasingly information-dense world. That could benefit civilians and Service members alike in areas as diverse as general education, job retraining and battlefield awareness.”
Beyond improving your memory and acceleration of learning as a cognitive enhancement, the understanding of memory formation, reactivation, and recall mechanisms developed in this program seem crucial to important transhumanist projects such as whole brain emulation and mind uploading. I met the contracting officer Justin Sanchez at the recent Biology is Technology summit in Silicon Valley and I was impressed with his presentation of man-machine symbiosis. Transhumanist researchers with appropriate backgrounds and interests should consider submitting proposals to DARPA.
More information about the DARPA RAM Replay program is available in the Broad Agency Announcement at: http://1.usa.gov/1GBdJoy.