The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the US military’s science and tech unit aka DARPA, is determined to create a platform whereby the human brain and a computer can communicate – telepathically.
The prolific government-controlled wing has already shocked the public with milestones in robotics, drones and AI – all of which paint a morbid picture of where military tech is going while outlining the devastating magnitude that war machines will soon have. One of their many areas of research that has been given extra focus is Neural Engineering System Design (NESD), to zone in on an electrical interface that gives way for dialogue between the human brain and a computer system.
The brain remains the most undiscovered organ in the body, mystified by internal mechanisms that science has not yet explained, such as how information is coded in neural activity, as well as how memories are stored and retrieved. With so many unknowns in cracking the code it becomes a grey area to tread indeed, but this hasn’t curbed DARPA’s daring to know.
NESD research is also being done in tandem with DARPA’s recent innovation of stimulating memory in patients that are suffering from neurological damage.
Computers are similar to the brain in the way they are wired, mimicking how it functions while relying on electricity to process information. When thoughts are transmitted, the brain fires up through the exchange of electrical signals via neurotransmitters: chemicals that link and synapse our brain cells together. A computer’s communication language is disseminated in zeroes and ones, a code that becomes the intrinsic make up of digital technology as we know it.
The brain is essentially a very, very advanced computer hosting billions of neurotransmitters, constantly churning out just as many electrochemical transmissions per second, which are in turn translated into our everyday thoughts.
In this light, DARPA has concluded that communication between the human brain and a lifeless computer could be achieved by isolating these electric signals in question and translating them to become recognizable when exchanged by either entity within the context of an artificial interface. This might sound like science fiction, but it is no far-fetched reality as thought-controlled prosthetics have already been developed, although they are still very primitive in their function.
The research isn’t purely hypothetical as the so-called Neural-Interface Technology has already materialized. 100 implants that link tens of thousands of neurons have been put into effect and managed to encode information that a computer would be able to recognize and process. So far, the results that have been wielded through the system are clouded with noise and external interference, amounting to practically nonsense, making it nowhere close to what DARPA is aiming for.
But DARPA is determined to think this through. So far only 100,000 neurons are being tampered with, but the desired response further down the line is to establish a system whereby millions of neurons – responsible for processing audio, visual and other cognitive abilities as well as those associated with touch, pain and movement – are enlightened simultaneously. While this sounds like a massive number and achievement, even reaching that goal would only be scratching the surface of a brain’s capacity which hosts an average of 86 billion neurotransmitters.
In being a military organization it is hard to zone in on exactly what DARPA’s research is leading to, but rest assured that findings will imminently give way for various forms of killing machines in the name of the law, for better or worse. What is also clear is DARPA’s exceeding desperation to make progress in this specific field. But for the timebeing, there will be some lag as advances rely directly on progress in other scientific fields such as synthetic biology, neuroscience and technology which have a long way to go. With so many variables, it’ll be a decade or two at least before we everyday humans will become subject to NESD’s haunting influence.
Regardless, DARPA continues to give serious thought to cracking the code, and we can expect a demo of its findings within the next four years.