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"And the stars are projectors, yeah, projecting our lives down to this planet Earth." - Modest Mouse


2.20.2004

Soul Catcher 2025 

I just came across a reference to something called the Soul Catcher 2025. Supposedly a British Telecom artificial life team at Martlesham Heath Laboratories has been tasked with creating a neural chip which, when implanted behind the eye, would record the thoughts and sensations arising in the cortex.
"This is the end of death," said Dr. Chris Winter, of British Telecom's artificial life team. He predicted that within three decades it would be possible to relive other people's lives by playing back their experiences on a computer. "By combining this information with a record of the person's genes, we could recreate a person physically, emotionally and spiritually."
Now obviously such news deserved a healthy degree of skepticism. Nevertheless, the rumor has run rampant through alternative press sites and a Google search on "Soul Catcher" will return many such results.
The concept of "uploading", as it is known, is not new and there are ongoing efforts at realizing its potential. The magazine Personal Computer World published an article called Ghosts, Computers, and Chinese Whispers in 1996 which detailed the BT announcement and attempted to lay the rumor to rest.
Is BT really trying to cache our consciousnesses onto chips stuffed in our heads? "No!", says Chris Winter, the BT researcher quoted in the press as heading the "team of eight Soul Catcher scientists". "We are not building anything!", he told me. The whole story is a media invention, developed like a game of Chinese Whispers from its origins in an after-dinner press briefing Winter gave to local journalists, intending to enthuse them about the future-looking work at BT Labs. Winter's research group had simply undertaken a "technology trend analysis" to speculate on the future capacity of silicon, and using Moore's Law had estimated the 10 terabyte chip by 2025.
Yet, amazingly, the innate human desire to believe in the magic of technology and the technologies of magic continue to insist that BT is in fact developing the Soul Catcher. Some even suggest that the technology is already being implemented and by 2005 every British infant will have the chip implanted at birth. The Truth will likely play out somewhere in between.

It remains a fascinating side note that science fiction - the imagination of the future - often seeds the technological realities of tomorrow. Witness cyberspace and nanotechnology, or even space travel. What the mind dreams, the hands make real, and it may not be too long before the dream of uploading is attainable. Personally, I'm still waiting for a pair of trodes.

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