did you know that the stated mission of DARPA is to prevent technological surprise to the US, but also to create technological surprise to our enemies? The newest news from those lovable, homicidal, acronym-happy wackos at DARPA is that they want to build an implantable brain-to-computer interface. Seriously, I dare you to wade more than one Google search deep into researching any of the brain-related technology DARPA is working on.
The idea here is that DARPA wants a chip smaller than a cubic centimeter — they characterize it as the volume of two nickels, back to back — that will provide “unprecedented signal resolution and data-transfer bandwidth between the human brain and the digital world.” Naturally, they’ve got an acronym for it: the Neural Engineering System Design, or NESD. They want to implant it in the human brain, and use it as an indwelling wideband interface for data transmission — and they’ve earmarked $60 million over four years for the purpose.
The resultant IP would be shared with the “industry stakeholders” that would help build such an implant, whose involvement DARPA is courting at a Proposer’s Day next month. Once those meetings are had, the research grant writing will start to flow, and we’ll have more information about the specifics of the project and the device.
Currently, the best neural interfaces we have are used for things like limb prosthetics, and they only use about a hundred channels at a time — and those channels get noisy, imprecise feeds because they’re many-to-one aggregators, collecting signals from hundreds or thousands of neurons per channel.
Prior art in the field of brain-computer interfaces, while promising, is still young. The NESD project aims to create an indwelling brain-to-computer interface, capable of data transmission between the module and up to a million individual neurons at a time. “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,” according to DARPA’s press release.
Research like this represents an enormous leap forward, and it will have to be profoundly multidisciplinary. Straight out of the gate, NESD’s objective will require a good map of theconnectome, and an intimate understanding of how neurons and their support cells do what they do. Implant engineering like this requires low-power electronics, materials science and mathematical modeling too. But imagine a HUD utility that could pick up sensory input from your brain, analyze it, and compare that information about your environment to a much larger database in real-time — like something you’d see on JARVIS’s resume. It’s even possible that by integrating magnetic brain stimulation, we could get remote I/O capabilities for the human mind.
Despite how shiny this looks, though — in light of the PRISM sideshow (can you believe that was back in 2013?), it boggles the mind to contemplate the security risks introduced by a wetware interface between a computer — any computer — and the human brain. I for one welcome my new advertising and surveillance overlords. Who’s going to get a chip put in their head made by the same governing bodies that gave us warrantless wiretapping and MK-ULTRA?