Friday, September 30, 2022

‘Memory Hackers’ (PBS): Not Just a ‘Men In Black’ Thing Anymore

Dr. Andre Fenton, professor of neural science, speaks onstage during NOVA's 'Memory Hackers' as part of the PBS portion of the 2016 Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour at Langham Hotel on January 19, 2016 in Pasadena, California.
Dr. Andre Fenton, professor of neural science, speaks onstage during NOVA’s ‘Memory Hackers’ as part of the PBS portion of the 2016 Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour at Langham Hotel on January 19, 2016 in Pasadena, California.

*Remember those Neuralyzers in “Men In Black” that could erase your memory with the press of a button, and how far fetched and preposterous it appeared to be?

men in black

Apparently, we are on the verge of that technology.

“Memory Hackers,” a new NOVA special (Feb. 10 on PBS), examines how memories are formed, what encompasses the act of remembering and the new technologies being used to implant, edit and, yes, erase memories—a process that has the potential of wiping entire events from our recollections – like traumatic occurrences from childhood that continue to haunt us.

The technology is actually less “Men In Black” and more “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” the 2004 film where an estranged couple played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet underwent a selective process that eliminated only memories of their relationship.

“The very idea that you could selectively remove memories is certainly something that we haven’t exactly accomplished, at least in the way that the movie portrays. But we’re very close to being able to do that and, arguably, we’ve actually done things like that,” said Dr. Andre A. Fenton, a professor of neuroscience at New York University, who has done landmark research on erasing memories and appears in the one hour special.

Jim Carrey in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"
Jim Carrey in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”

Fenton told journalists at the recent TCA Press Tour that he’s more concerned with the ethics behind memory erasure technology, calling the current real life technique more of a “parlor trick” than the more involved process displayed in the movie. “Given our knowledge of the fundamental biology of how information is stored in the brain, it’s very easy to imagine several schemes that you should be able to pull that off with,” said Fenton. “It’s a matter of whether we should try.”

While the concept of memory erasure has the potential to do great good – like treating mental illness, PTSD, psychological trauma and lifelong phobias – the technology could also fall into the wrong hands and be used for evil purposes.

Below, Fenton reveals just how worried he is about the more sinister possibilities of memory erasure:

Nova’s “Memory Hackers” premieres Wednesday, February 10, at 9PM/8C on PBS (check local listings).

Watch the trailer below:

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