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The government has a procedure that employees undergo when working on special projects regarding experimental technology. These scientists are taken to a clandestine site where they will not be able to leave until the end of the project. There, they are injected with an implant for the duration. After the project is finished, the implant is retrieved and they are allowed to return to their lives, and they are paid for their services.

The person injected will not remember what they were working on at the site. They will know that they were working there, but not the specifics of the project. The purpose of the implant's effects is to protect government security and prevent secrets from falling into the wrong hands if that scientist is kidnapped or decides to sell secrets.

How would this implant work to do its job of protecting specific information without affecting other parts of the brain?

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    $\begingroup$ related question worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/159501/… $\endgroup$ – user69935 Mar 20 '20 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ Didn't the people in Men in Black and Paycheck already demonstrate two technological approaches? I hope you are no expecting anything more serious, given that our understanding of how the brain forms, stores and retrieves memory is all that much better than what Aristotle knew two and a half millennia ago. All you can say is that the implant induces amnesia starting from the moment it was introduced to the moment it was extracted. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Mar 20 '20 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ Johnny Mnenonic The Bourne Identity . Westworld (the HBO series) . THese all cover this in detail, with different points of view. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Mar 20 '20 at 14:43
  • $\begingroup$ Since the implant is "Science magic," you can decide for yourself whether there's a risk -- or a guarantee -- of permanent damage. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Mar 20 '20 at 14:44
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First a little real-world background. Today, state of the art brain interfaces measure the activity of large populations of neurons with implanted electrode arrays and use statistical methods to decode the collective behavior. The most simple and compelling examples of this are humans with disabilities using the implants to control mouse cursors. In these experiments, the human with the implant practices trying to move the cursor with their mind for many hours, until enough data has been recorded from the hundreds of neurons accessed by the implant to reliably understand the human's intention. For example, you try and move the cursor from the left to the right and the population of neurons fires in a particular pattern with some variation. We don't know why the neurons fire in this pattern, or understand how any of it is working, but if we record while you attempt to move the cursor from the left to the right multiple times, we can eventually recognize the corresponding pattern of spiking (unique to you).

Now, back to science fiction. Let's say the implant the government employees got at the beginning of their secret job is constantly recording from an electrode array in the memory center of the brain. (Ignore the hype, but here's a legit interesting real-world project intended to get lots of electrodes deep into the brain with minimal damage). They then have the implant for the duration of their time spent working on the secret project, so the implant has seen the arbitrary but repeated patterns that correspond to the employee thinking about and recalling all this secret information over and over again in the context of their daily job responsibilities. Without understanding how the brain is organized or what the specific memories are, the government agency could use this "neural memory center activity profile" to see which individual neurons and/or neuron spiking pairs correspond to the secret project.

Then, at the end of the job, these individual neurons or spiking pairs could be identified and destroyed, removing the specifics of the memory with as little collateral as possible. The electrodes themselves could even be the vehicle for the destruction, applying a tiny but lethal potential to the offending neuron cell membrane, kinda like electroporation. In the end, as you specified, the implant could then be removed: it recorded during the job to understand which parts of the brain were relevant, destroyed only those parts, and is no longer needed.

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    $\begingroup$ It’s possible that just doing this wiping from information on the job is not enough, because it would be better for wiping general things related to the job (or it may instead risk wiping out the neurons responsible for carrying out the job, rather than just the memories). Perhaps to make sure specific job related memories are thoroughly wiped, the person should be asked to recount everything they did on the job, based on a report, then whatever neurons are involved during the recounting process can be wiped, allowing for a targeted wipe on job-related memories. $\endgroup$ – Enthus3d May 8 '20 at 12:33
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Don't erase memories, block them.

Whenever a specific topic comes to mind, the implant mocks up a mental block (known informally as a "tip of the tongue" error).

This doesn't require any abnormal changes to the neural structure of the brain (other than whatever's needed to attach the implant in the first place).

If you can't recall a specific piece of information because it gets intercepted blocked, you don't have it for all practical purposes.

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We do not know

The technology to do this does not yet exist. As far as I am aware, the field of neuroscience is not yet advanced enough to tell us how the brain works in enough detail that we could speculate on exactly how this might work. My understanding is the state of the art is, we know which parts of the brain control memories, but not how well those parts work to the point we could even think about engineering something like this. This is about the limit.

Certainly such a thing would be possible, if you understood enough about how the brain works. In 2009, a man's brain remotely operated a robotic hand and research into this has continued, to try and help paralyzed people.

But the level of control required to select a handful of specific memories, block them, and only them? That's on a whole other level. Eventually we'll get there, but about all we can say right now is "Very carefully, thank you very much."

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The implant overlays memories.

Memories are not static. They are dynamic and shaped by the present. For example, a guy who is struggling might remember his high school buddies as a bunch of bullies who were always mean to him. He did not think of it that way until just recently, but current events cast the past into a different light.

Your memory overlay casts the events of the project in a different light. One person might remember it as make-work he was compelled to do, trying for a degree he did not get. One person might remember it as as a supremely boring temp job. One person might remember it as a dream; a strange sequence of events tangentially related to her regular life. One person might mostly remember (successfully!) trying to seduce a coworker.

That is how memory works. The present shapes the remembered past.

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