DARPA aims for brain implants to control machines

© David
An implantable neural chip being developed under a newly-announced program by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which will allow humans to directly communicate with computers and control them with just their mind.

Besides the obvious military application, the device will open new possibilities for the treatment of different neural disorders, as well as potentially improving the lives of disabled people who are paralyzed, deaf or blind, DARPA claimed in a press-release.

The implant, according to the researcher, would potentially be able to feed audio and visual information directly to the brain “at a resolution and experiential quality far higher than is possible with current technology.”

The new technology also promises to speed up the way people use computers and provides a significant enhancement for soldiers’ combat performance as it would allow them to use new ways of communication and obtaining information while on the battlefield.

The new DARPA program called Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) plans to achieve these goals by creating a biocompatible implant that would be taped directly into the brain via surgical operation and would serve as a sort of translator converting electrochemical signals used by neurons into the binary machine code.

Such technology would greatly improve brain-computer interaction and help overcome many difficulties faced by similar devices that have been created so far.

The existing neural interface systems are based on detecting the electrical activity of the brain either by implants taped into nerve signals from the brain or electrodes inserted directly into the brain or by modified electroencephalogram systems that use sensors and gels to pick up brain electrical activity from a scalp.

All such systems require the user to be specially trained to operate them. Additionally, the existing technologies “squeeze” and aggregate tremendous amount of information through a very limited number of channels making the results “noisy and imprecise.”

The NESD program aims at developing a system capable of communicating “clearly and individually with any of up to one million neurons in a given region of the brain.”

“Today’s best brain-computer interface systems are like two supercomputers trying to talk to each other using an old 300-baud modem,” Phillip Alvelda, the NESD program manager said in the press-release.

“Imagine what will become possible when we upgrade our tools to really open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics,” he added.

The NESD project was launched as a part of a broader DARPA initiative announced by President Obama in April 2013 and aimed at finding new ways of treating brain disorders and injuries. The program is only in its initial phase with the developers still facing significant challenges in creating sufficient hardware for the implant and developing corresponding software that requires “advanced mathematical and neuro-computation techniques.”