If you unexpectedly found yourself on the brink of death, would you want the opportunity to stay alive long enough to say your farewells to friends and loved ones before you died? Perhaps use the time to finally make peace with an adversary, or take care of that last will and testament you never got around to signing?
Those possibilities are apparently on the horizon, or so claimed a San Jose based bio-tech company during last week’s San Matteo County Technology Conference.
“The technology exists,” CEO Garret Black said. “It’s gone beyond an idea on paper to real world application.” Black leads the privately owned firm Agritech, the company which clearly made the biggest impact at the conference by touting it’s so called “Brain Battery.”
“The brain operates on an electric charge,” Black explained to a large, noticeably enthusiastic crowd. “We know that our bodies produce the approximate 100 watts of energy needed to keep a healthy man or woman alive. Of that, 20 watts are allocated to brain functionality. With the current advances in nanotechnology, 20 watts is well within our ability to supply externally in the inevitable event the body is no longer able to produce that kind of energy on its own.”
In other words, when the body dies, so does the energy source that keeps our brains functioning. Given the proper power source, however, the brain can theoretically keep running even after the body is clinically dead.
“When the body dies, the brain is the last thing to go,” Black explained. “When the electronic energy the body produces is cutoff, the brain shuts down very quickly. It’s like unplugging your computer. As soon as you do, lights out. There goes that Word doc, right? Unless, that is, you have an external source of power such as, say, a laptop’s battery.”
The concept is simple – attach an external power source to a willing participant’s body, in this case a small and conveniently placed rechargeable lithium ion battery, and when the person dies, the brain is fed enough power to keep it fully functional. At least for a short while.
“We estimate about 15 minutes of usable functionality before the power source depletes,” said Black. “We’re talking about the ability to think, even blink your eyes as a means to communicate. But we also have to consider that the rest of the biological consequences that come with death also play a role. Blood flow, oxygen, those sort of things. So physical abilities are somewhat limited. But fifteen minutes is fifteen minutes, right?”
Sound far-fetched? Don’t be easily dissuaded. As of today there are already dozens of volunteers testing the product, with hundreds more on the now-closed waiting list. One of them, Sherri Willis of San Bernadino, said she feels honored to be part of the program.
“People say it’s morbid,” Willis said. “But I feel special knowing I’m contributing to an important advancement for the human race. I don’t want to die anytime soon, but it’s going to happen someday. Way I figured, why not help further the cause when my time comes?”
None of the 37 participants have passed away yet, meaning Black and his group will have to wait before inconclusive results become scientific fact.
“On paper, the technology works,” Black said. “About that we’re confident. Apollo flew to the moon and everybody knew what to expect before they got there, right? Enough to make the mission a success, at least. We’re in the same position, really. Our current volunteers aren’t willing to speed up the testing process, understandably so. For now we just have to sit on our hands until that data becomes available. Talk about anticipation.”
Predictably, the technology has its fair share of opponents. Pastor Amos Willabee of God’s Church of Salvation and Light is one of them. He flew all the way to California from his home in Prichard, Alabama for the opportunity to make his voice heard on behalf of his congregation.
“It’s against God’s will to prolong death,” Pastor Willabee said. “When He wants you to go, He wants you to go. To defy the will of God is an act of blasphemy.”
Still, the number of proponents present at the conference vastly outweighed the opposition. As local advocate Ronald Hughes put, “Human are progressive, we need to keep moving forward. Technology is amazing. I mean, it’s just amazing, you know? If God didn’t want us to do this, He wouldn’t have allowed us to invent a way to do it. So I don’t see the problem, really.”
Black agreed. “We’re not cheating death or insulting anyone’s God. We’re just offering a little extra time to wrap things up before someone dies. What happens after that is no longer in anyone’s hands.”
The company would like to expand the number of volunteers for their program, but they must first await a ruling by the United States government. Congress is scheduled to discuss the controversial technology during their next assembly later this year. It’s a major hurdle, one that Agritech will have to clear before moving forward.
“They communicated that they don’t want us going any further ahead with new tests,” Black conceded. “But they didn’t say we couldn’t continue our current research. Which we take that to include monitoring our existing case studies. Hopefully between now and the assembly we’ll have some viable results that we can bring to Congress. Just have to wait and see what happens.”
The next Congressional General Assembly is scheduled this coming December. No doubt the so-called “Brain Battery” will be a hotly debated topic in the meantime.