Personal FAQ

This page of frequently asked questions about me began in Oct. 2012 and is based on a set of questions by Anne Brice, who was writing an article for the East Bay Express.

I know you are working in the Mission District right now... What exactly are you working on now?

I spend most of my time working on two things:
  1. - still managing the big picture, pulling together the various projects (at MIT, Harvard, in SF, at Northwestern, etc.) that all contribute to the roadmap, writing literature, speaking, working on integration of tools & projects. This takes 50% of my time.
  2. Start-up NeuraLink Co. out of the lab space we call "MI7" (Mission & 7th), which is shared with 3Scan (Todd Huffman's company). My start-up is about building tiny neural probes that are wireless and powered by infrared light. They will be so small that they do not break barriers (unlike regular electrodes) and may even fit within our circulatory system and in interstitial spaces between cells within the cerebrospinal fluid. This is in the early stages and takes up the other 50% of my time.
Do you consider yourself working independently or with a group?

I have always worked with groups, because there is no way to either do everything that needs to be done to get whole brain emulation done by yourself, or even to make a contribution that integrates well with the work of others without very frequent communication and synchronization. Actually, a very large part of my activities revolves around networking.

That said, was originally a two-person project, launched by Dr. Suzanne Gildert and myself, and has been a one-person operation for a while now (though with occasional volunteer help). This is all slated to change quite a bit in the coming months due to teaming up with Foundation 2045 (Dmitry Itskov's organization).

Who is funding your work?

I used to be sponsored by Halcyon Molecular, the founders of which (William and Michael Andregg) saw value in my work. Before that, I was self-sponsoring by doing it on the side next to my work as head of the department of neural engineering at Tecnalia in Spain. Now, I have improved financial sponsorship for both the non-profit and for-profit activities through Foundation 2045. This is because the roadmap developed at and the network of projects that are building the tools for whole brain emulation can be dropped in to form the "Avatar C" part of 2045's Avatar project:

Who do you consider to be your biggest supporters? In what ways do they back you?

The biggest supporters are the *Experts* who are well-aligned with SIM and WBE. Experts have this special knack that they can understand problems that are within their field of expertise better than anyone and quickly come up with effective and often outside-the-box solutions that would take others a long time to figure out. This is why pulling together miscellaneous expertise in the relevant fields is so important, in addition to having a solid foundation and ground-swell of support by enthusiasts.

Now, when I say experts, I'm not just talking about scientific experts, even though they are important. Some of our best scientific expert supporters are: Prof. Ed Boyden, Prof. Ted Berger, Prof. George Church and Prof. Miguel Nicolelis.

Another kind of expertise is, for example, the ability to find/make money for projects - in other words, good investors or financial supporters are also a kind of expert. They are just as important to the success of a project as the scientific/engineering experts. Obviously, at the moment the most important expert in that area is Dmitry Itskov, our very Zen-like and dedicated supporter from Foundation 2045, who has decided to turn all of his attention towards achieving new body and new brain solutions, especially substrate-independent minds.

Through that extension with Foundation 2045, and in particular during the GF2045 Congress in NYC June 15-16, we are also receiving support from entrepreneur Dr. Martine Rothblatt.

What are some of your mind uploading accomplishments that you're most proud of? Have you published research papers on mind uploading?

I think my proudest accomplishment so far is that I got the various labs and scientists like Ed Boyden, George Church, Ted Berger, Miguel Nicolelis and others to all a.) take whole brain emulation seriously and be willing to do so publicly, and b.) start working more closely together around a plan, a plan that actually takes into account the technical details such as System Identification in Neural Circuitry.

I recently published two academic papers on mind uploading:
  • Koene, R.A. (2012). Fundamentals of Whole Brain Emulation: State, Transition and Update Representations. Special Issue of the International Journal on Machine Consciousness. Vol.4(1), doi: 10.1142/S1793843012500023.
  • Koene, R.A. (2012). Experimental Research in Whole Brain Emulation: The Need for Innovative In-Vivo Measurement Techniques. Special Issue of the International Journal on Machine Consciousness. Vol.4(1), doi: 10.1142/S1793843012500047.
There is another one to be published in late 2012 or early 2013:
  • Koene, R.A. (2013). Toward Tractable AGI: Challenges for System Identification in Neural Circuitry. To be published in Lecture Notes in Computer Science. Vol. 7716, Springer.
If you dig through my publications at you will probably notice that there are also quite a few publications throughout my academic career that were clearly aimed at neurophysiologically detailed circuit modeling that would be relevant within the field of whole brain emulation, even though I did not at the time include mention of this goal in the publications.

If you described your work -- what it actually looked like on a day to day basis -- what would you describe for them? (I'm trying to paint a picture of what your work looks like for the general public...)

There are some features that pop up over and over again in my work:

  1. Travel, and lots of it! Since it is one of my most crucial tasks to act as a connecting node for a multi-disciplinary objective, it's very important that I go out and visit labs, conferences and get to speak with the experts involved as well as to the public.
  2. Meetings, some of them right her in SF. I have to talk to a lot of people.
  3. Project design. This involves figuring out how a project fits into the bigger picture of whole brain emulation, but also what its milestones and hurdles are - then discovering from either the network we created or from the literature what might be the best approaches to solving those problems. This can get quite detailed, such as in the case of Cyborcells, where we actually have to work out the individual experimental designs to test and verify each desired feature of the neural probes.
  4. Writing. I do a lot of writing, because refining and communicating ideas is a major part of my work.
  5. Speaking and interviews. You can see much of that recorded online, so you know what that is about.
  6. Coordinating. Much of that is coordination with others in Foundation 2045, and in the networks created around WBE.
  7. Reading and listening. It's imperative to stay on top of developments and to know where outside-the-box solutions to otherwise troublesome problems may be found.
  8. Fund raising. Surprisingly, this one has not been as high up on the list of tasks as I might have though - but I think this is changing now. Given that there is also a start-up to fund, there will be more fund raising work, both in the form of traditional grants as well as through the involvement of investors.
  9. Infrastructure. This one is actually terribly important! It is what makes it possible to do all of the above in an ongoing manner, instead of one headlong sprint that ends up in exhaustion. There is a lot of energy and attention that needed to go into effective scheduling, tracking, logging, planning, etc. This became so much of a thing that I ended up having to create my own software for it (and I even spoke about it once at a Quantified Self meeting:

I know Dr. Ted Berger's accomplishments with recreating a functioning part of the hippocampus doesn't prove that mind uploading is possible, but what does it prove? What might its implications be? Does it help your cause in any way?

It proves that it is possible to make circuitry in ANOTHER substrate (here silicon) that can carry out the function and produce the behavior of a piece of neural tissue. From a fundamental stand-point, that is a huge step towards proving that mind uploading is possible, or at least whole brain emulation (though it does not yet address the matter of transitioning a mind from one platform to that other emulating one).

One of its implications is that it has taught Ted Berger's lab, and thereby all of us, some of the important things to do and to look for when carrying out what is called System Identification in Neural Circuitry. (He recently spoke about that: - he was on at 5:10pm.)

It certainly helps our cause, because it builds the case for mind as a machine that manipulates information - something that is not unique to biological machinery, and thereby could be carried out in another type of machine that emulates the same function. Getting over that conceptual hurdle is a big deal for professionals in the field and even more so for people everywhere.

About how much money (that you know of) is being invested in mind uploading?

Money that is currently pegged to be put directly into "mind uploading" and uses a term like that or very close to it is probably very little. I think we could say it is the amount that Foundation 2045 is spending on it, plus a little bit by Martine Rothblatt and some by Peter Thiel who is supporting David Dalrymple's "Nemaload" project to the tune of $200K. All together, I would be surprised if it was more than $1million annually.

Taking a broader look and including the funding that goes into laboratory work aimed at building the tools that are directly applicable to whole brain emulation (e.g. the molecular ticker tape being developed by MIT, Harvard and Northwestern, Anthony Zador's biological tagging method for the connectome, Janelia Farm's investment in Ken Hayworth's FIBSEM developments, 3Scan's funding for their work on the KESM, etc.) then I think it might be a sum of around $15-20million annually.

Whatever the actual amount, it is clearly of a magnitude that is a mere drop in the bucket compared with other things that humanity spends money on, e.g. iPhone development, FIFA Soccer world championship - or even a single stadium!, Gangnam style dance music... And I'm not even mentioning comparisons with military budgets.