I’m a computational neuroscientist with a long-standing and deep passion for intelligent machines, neural interfaces, neural prosthesis, and the functional reconstruction of neural tissue.
I’ve been exploring and advocating a brand-new multidisciplinary field, dubbed ‘whole brain emulation’, that our small group of early pioneers introduced under that name around the year 2000. Whole brain emulation is the natural end-point of progressively more and more precise neural prosthesis, but is also the scientific and technological route to a process for cognitive self-evolution that has been discussed in philosophical and sci-fi circles, sometimes sensationally called ‘mind uploading’.
Ever since the first published roadmap on whole brain emulation in 2007 that came out of our Oxford University working group, I have sought to maintain and update the most current science and technology roadmap for the fledgling field. I have given numerous public lectures and interviews to explain the meaning, the importance, and progress towards whole brain emulation and mind uploading. I have sought out expertise in an ever-expanding network of scientists and specialists, facilitated collaborations and aided in the founding and launching of academic and non-academic efforts.
I was born in the Netherlands to a Dutch particle physicist and a German artist. At 13, I discovered my personal mission to totally overcome our cognitive limitations by finding ways to gain complete access to their operations and to augment and improve them (a mission somewhat colorfully described in this PopSci article).
To find the right way for me to help make this dream a reality, I first followed in my father’s footsteps and began studying Physics at the University of Amsterdam. I then focused my studies more closely on the problem of cognition by studying artificial intelligence and information theory at Delft University of Technology, where I earned an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering. From that zig I zagged specifically into human cognition with a computational neuroscience Ph.D. on human memory and learning at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. I was seeking to understand how something as fundamental to the human experience as the process of selectively acquiring episodic memory and transitioning it through stages from short- to intermediate- (LTP/LTD) to long-term memory (morphological synaptic changes) could be detected, analyzed, and synthesized by mathematical representation in realistic, neuroprosthetic models.
I continued that work at my first academic job at the the Laboratory of Computational Neurophysiology in the Center for Memory and Brain at Boston University, where I eventually rose to a research professorship and combined that work on hippocampal and prefrontal cortical networks with an academic project at the VU University of Amsterdam, developing algorithms to emulate the outgrowth process of neuronal growth cones during brain development (NETMORPH).
In 2008, I decided to try my luck outside of academia with the opportunity to direct the brand new department of neuroengineering at Tecnalia in Spain, and to hire talent internationally with the hope to develop revolutionary new neural interfaces. The financial crisis intervened and changed the nature of that opportunity. Exploring outside of academia already, Silicon Valley was an attractive target for yet another approach to the problem. So, in 2010, I joined the efforts of Halcyon Molecular, as their Director of Analysis, a startup with a mission to make it big in the next generation DNA sequencing space, as a funds generator for even more ambitious projects towards nanotechnology, robotics and brain emulation.
At the same time, I founded the non-profit foundation Carboncopies.org, a 501(c)(3), which I continue to lead as chairperson. For the past few years, Carboncopies has operated as the reliable hub with unwavering mission to bring about whole brain emulation. Carboncopies is independent, not beholden to the interests or fortunes of any one company or person, insuring at all times that whole brain emulation is brought to the attention of experts and public alike, and that anyone with the desire and ability to help the mission along is supported in any and all ways that the organization can provide. (An earlier, historical, version of the Carboncopies.org site also exists at this link: https://sites.google.com/site/carboncopiesproject/)
Between early 2012 and late 2013, I lent my expertise to the efforts of the 2045 Initiative and its Global Futures 2045 Congress, which was an opportunity to bring together many of the leading scientists of the four critical domains of the whole brain emulation roadmap.
Many of the same scientists were subsequently re-involved when I worked with Bryan Johnson (former founder of Braintree) to come up with a feasible plan for a neurotechnology startup that could bring about true high bandwidth human neural interfacing, neural prosthesis and cognitive augmentation, with the ultimate goal of whole brain emulation. This work culminated in the launch of the company Kernel in 2016, which is today in the early phases of its efforts to realize the potential of cognitive augmentation. At the time, I also took the opportunity to learn about venture capital funds, by advising Johnson’s OS Fund on the development of a new model (The OSF Playbook) for due-diligence in sci-tech heavy funds. In 2015, I ran a neural interfaces project neuralink.org, the name of which appears to have made its reappearance in the Neuralink company that shares parts of its origin story with Kernel.
Of course, not every moment in life is work and mission. I also enjoy kayaking, trekking into nature and camping, composing electronic music, writing, fire spinning at Burning Man, dancing to industrial and eclectic music, as well as community activity around societal, political, economic and biotechnological experimentation.
I am generally happy to talk about my experiences and insights on this adventurous journey. If you would like to get in touch, or if you would like to interview me or would like me to speak at an event, please use the information on my contact page.
I would be honored if you take a moment to peruse this website, to see some of my work and some of my interests.
- Randal A. Koene