DARPA looks to implant computer to interface directly with human brain

A new DARPA program aims to develop an implantable neural interface able to provide unprecedented signal resolution and data-transfer bandwidth between the human brain and the digital world. The interface would serve as a translator, converting between the electrochemical language used by neurons in the brain and the ones and zeros that constitute the language of information technology. The goal is to achieve this communications link in a biocompatible device no larger than one cubic centimeter in size, roughly the volume of two nickels stacked back to back.

The program, Neural Engineering System Design (NESD), stands to dramatically enhance research capabilities in neurotechnology and provide a foundation for new therapies.

“Today’s best brain-computer interface systems are like two supercomputers trying to talk to each other using an old 300-baud modem,” said Phillip Alvelda, the NESD program manager, in a statement. “Imagine what will become possible when we upgrade our tools to really open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics.”

Among the program’s potential applications are devices that could compensate for deficits in sight or hearing by feeding digital auditory or visual information into the brain at a resolution and experiential quality far higher than is possible with current technology.

Neural interfaces currently approved for human use squeeze a tremendous amount of information through just 100 channels, with each channel aggregating signals from tens of thousands of neurons at a time. The result is noisy and imprecise. In contrast, the NESD program aims to develop systems that can communicate clearly and individually with any of up to one million neurons in a given region of the brain.

Achieving the program’s ambitious goals and ensuring that the envisioned devices will have the potential to be practical outside of a research setting will require integrated breakthroughs across numerous disciplines including neuroscience, synthetic biology, low-power electronics, photonics, medical device packaging and manufacturing, systems engineering, and clinical testing. In addition to the program’s hardware challenges, NESD researchers will be required to develop advanced mathematical and neuro-computation techniques to first transcode high-definition sensory information between electronic and cortical neuron representations and then compress and represent those data with minimal loss of fidelity and functionality.

To accelerate that integrative process, the NESD program aims to recruit a diverse roster of leading industry stakeholders willing to offer state-of-the-art prototyping and manufacturing services and intellectual property to NESD researchers on a pre-competitive basis. In later phases of the program, these partners could help transition the resulting technologies into research and commercial application spaces.

Source: U.S. Department of Defense

MacDailyNews Take: What could go wrong?

Borg Picard

21 Comments

    1. Totally disagree. The human species has been pushing the boundaries of science, technology, and medicine for hundreds of years and will continue to do so. As the human race has pushed boundaries there has always been early adopters exploring the bleeding edges and laggards that desperately cling to the status quo, fear-mongering, and “religion”.

      1. Fear mongering and appropriate caution are not the same thing. Scientists are notorious for focusing on their work, not its potential ramifications.. Anyway, this is something being attempted, not something that works (another problem with many scientists and engineers – they proclaim theory as operational reality when it is anything but).

      2. Okay stand in line to get your implant and tell me how it works for you. Maybe after a few firmware updates you will be able to stop wearing pull-ups.

        The best I can understand what is suggested here, it is simply a better keyboard.

        When I add religion to my statement, it is to suggest a moral platform which doesn’t have to be religious to begin with. However it’s where I am coming from. I am not saying, don’t do it, because God or Jesus told me not too. I am saying, there are boundaries which once we cross, we continue down the path where we cease being the person we were brought into the world as.

        If you want to go full Borg, by all means, go for it. What I see is that once we get to that point, we will all be forced to do it, which is bad.

        1. I hear what you’re saying and trust me I see both sides of the equation and that new technological progress often times can have good, bad, or unintended consequences. Would I want a version 1.0 implant? No thanks lol. But if I suffered from blindness, deafness, or some other malady I just might be interested in giving this a try. As a biomedical/clinical engineer I am interested in the upside potential of technology to have a huge positive impact on disease, disabilities, etc.

          1. I can agree to the concept of fixing what isn’t working.

            We have a long and well thought out history of healing the sick. What I have a problem with, is the misuse of the technology to enhance a human being. I have an issue if this could fix Trisomy 23. Think Lawnmower Man. It seems heartless, I know.

            I would say, let’s not go beyond the $6 Million Dollar Man. I.E.: leave the brain itself, alone. Do not change the cognitive capability of anyone.

      1. Full disclosure: I am an Orthodox Christian. I believe that science and religion can coexist. I don’t think that modifying the human body is a good idea.

        I am against tattoos, plastic surgery, and as previously stated, brain implants. However the cochlea implant is acceptable. Development should be in making people whole. I try not to judge others, or think il will of them. However, your comment simply boggles my mind.

        It’s “maroon.” Try to remember that next time.

        1. Its not that science and religion *need* to coexist. Science is based on laws and facts that are evolving as our knowledge and understanding of the universe grows….science literally has no need for religion. It is driven by a set of rational laws that do not care one iota how much you “believe” something to be otherwise. Religion however very much adapts over generations as to what is acceptable or “morally right” based on what each generation learns. Good thing we don’t burn or drown women anymore for supposed “witchcraft” which probably was probably a fancy way of saying “I don’t approve of you in some way” at the time?

          And who fucking cares if someone wants to cover their body in tattoos, plastic surgery, etc. Just as I don’t care whatever religion de jour anyone chooses to believe in or which one of the 3000+ omnipotent gods they choose to follow. As long as their choices don’t negatively impact my enjoyment of life, to each their own!

          1. I can live with that. To each their own.

            I have my limits of what I would want for myself. I am not out to make anyone live my life or see my ways. I suppose speaking my mind has an influence of others. I would stress, that is free speech. Certainly you have helped me to focus on what I think is important.

            When I see DARPA involved with brain implants, I can’t help but think it’s for some military application.

            If it was a helmet as in Firefox (1982), I’d be fine with it.

    1. And right away he had it removed. I think his only accomplishment is furthering our understanding of putting things into our heads, however I am not so sure the complications of his surgery was worth the benefit he was hoping for.

  1. Anyone interested in this stuff should check out a guy named Jose Delgado, and something called ESB. No, NOT ESP, ESB.
    Electrical Stimulation of the brain. This has been going on for a long time. Jose Delgado stopped a bull from charging him, by a touch of a button. Stimulating implanted electrodes, could make a shy person talkative, and someone who can’t stop blabbing, be quiet. Stimulation of the brain caused people to hear things, feel hungry, and other stuff. But if you think mind monitoring is kinnda scary, consider experiments PUTTING thoughts in people’s mind.

  2. Dear DARPA: Not gonna happen any time soon. At this time we clearly do NOT understand how the human brain works beyond an very basic level. No doubt Dr. Kurzweil is hyped about the possibilities. (0_o)

    Meanwhile, we know damned well the point of it:
    To further that worst of all human behaviors, war.

    WTF is wrong with our species that we are so inherently self-destructive? Explain that. There’s some useful and productive research for you to perform.

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