The (fake) viral video of a head transplant

We have been talking for years about possible head transplants as a solution to terminal illnesses or as a way to prolong our life, so much so that science fiction has echoed this on numerous occasions. It would have been achieved in mice and there are plans, always postponed, to do it in humans. Therefore, when the company BrainBridge announced with a video on social networks the creation of a robotic system equipped with AI capable of removing the head of a dying person and bring it to a healthy body, many took it to be true.

The video, in total, was played millions of times and generated thousands of comments on social networks. There you could see a robotic surgeon, similar to an octopus, equipped with lasers and scalpel-like systems who was in charge of the intervention while a voice-over explained the procedure.

The company that published it responded to the name of BrainBridge and, as it stated, it was the “world's first revolutionary concept for a head transplant machinewhich uses cutting-edge robotics and artificial intelligence to perform a complete head and face transplant.”

Everything seemed real. If we visit BrainBridge's website it has several job openings, including one for neuroscience team leader and another for government relations advisor. All of this seemed convincing enough for the New York Post, for example, to announce that BrainBridge is “a new biomedical engineering company” and that “the company” plans a surgery in eight years”.

But the reality is that behind all this is the mind of a popularizer and filmmaker of Yemeni origin: Hashem Al-Ghaili, who already had experience sowing doubt. In 2022 he made a video, EctoLife, which also went viral, about artificial wombs.

The video project was funded in part by Alex Zhavoronkov, founder of Insilico Medicine, a AI drug discovery, who is also a leading figure in anti-aging research. After Zhavoronkov published the video on his LinkedIn account, many pointed out that it is the manager's face that appears on the two bodies shown in the video.

“I can confirm that I helped design and finance some parts of the video – Zhavoronkov explained in an interview -. And I'm not the only one: some people important and famous people are supporting him financially”. Although she did not clarify who they could be.

The logical question is: could head transplants work? The only precedent we have is from the 1970s when neurosurgeon Robert White performed a “cephalic exchange”, cutting off the head of a monkey, placing it on another's body and sewing their circulatory systems. Reports suggested that the animal remained conscious and could see for a few days, before dying. Thus, it is most likely that a human head transplant will also be fatal.

“The most common question is Where do they get the bodies from?”, confesses Al-Ghaili after reading the comments on social networks. According to the BrainBridge website, these would be obtained from “ethically developed” unconscious bodies from EctoLife, the artificial womb company, also a fiction created by Al-Ghaili.