The US Military's experimental research division DARPA have confirmed that they're to begin work on the world's first human computer interface. This would effectively allow soldier 'cyborgs' to connect directly to computers and 'talk' to them.
The program, entitled Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) has been designed to create a "implantable neural interface able to provide unprecedented signal resolution and data-transfer bandwidth between the human brain and the digital world."
The idea shares some similarities to the film 'The Matrix' where human beings are 'plugged' into a virtual world through a data port in the back of the neck. However DARPA believes that the main barrier in place preventing humans from effectively communicating is that the cabling we use to transfer the data between the brain and the computer is far too simplistic.
Phillip Alvelda, the NESD program manager explains, “Today’s best brain-computer interface systems are like two supercomputers trying to talk to each other using an old 300-baud modem,”
“Imagine what will become possible when we upgrade our tools to really open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics.”
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While the program is being run by a military organisation, DARPA believes the applications for a new cable could have tremendous implications for real-life scenarios.
It could lead to devices such as bionic eyes, limbs and more that would then be able to provide digital auditory or visual information to the brain at a resolution far higher than our own eyes are capable of.
As DARPA describes in its report, the current technology which allows humans to send and receive information to computers work through over 100 channels which then have to process tens of thousands of neurons at a time.
The hope is that at the end of this program researchers will have created a single, effective technology which would allow a computer to read and understand over a million neurons at a time.
What this technology could eventually result in is a high-resolution network which would allow amputees to give far more precise instructions to bionic limbs. It would also allow the creation of advanced bionic accessories including 'smart' eyes which would be able to process images in night vision and then send those images directly to the brain.
DARPA knows that for this to happen, the program will need to result in a number of breakthroughs across various disciplines so don't expect to be ordering your new super-hearing ear anytime soon.
This isn't the first time that the US Military's experimental research division has confirmed it's working on neurotechnology.
The RAM Replay Program, which started testing last year carefully studies the processes the brain goes through when trying to learn a new physical or mental skill.
Researchers are studying the physical and neurological interfaces that take place to better understand how the brain is reinforcing new skills.
"DARPA is about to launch a new effort to develop neurotechologies that may help individuals not just better remember individual items but learn physical skills."
Justin Sanchez, program manager said: “Everyone has had the experience of struggling to remember long lists of items or complicated directions to get somewhere,”
“Today we are discovering how implantable neurotechnologies can facilitate the brain’s performance of these functions.”
The end result of the program is to eventually create a 'chip' or 'implant' that could effectively allow soldiers to learn a skill in their sleep or allow them to learn it far faster than it would normally take.
The RAM Replay Program isn't just about creating faster, more intelligent soldiers, it's also closely tied into DARPA's Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies (SUBNETS) program which is researching how similar technologies could be used to help soldiers suffering from PTSD.
Started over a year ago, the SUBNETS program uses a process called Deep Brain Stimulation via a tiny chip implanted into the patient's brain.
When the chip registers that something is wrong, minuscule electrical pulses are then applied to the affected areas restoring the patient’s brain to a healthy state.
The hope is that in the long run this could have a permanent effect on the soldier, effectively curing PTSD.