American soldiers might soon become cyborgs, as the United States government is looking into amazing new technology that would allow soldiers to connect directly to computers. The project is known as Neural Engineering System Design (NESD), and it is being conducted by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the United States military. The project is seeking to create an implantable neural interface that would basically make American soldiers part human and part robotic computer.
While such human-computer interfaces are not a totally new research topic, most projects have been restricted by sluggish and limited control. Past efforts have usually involved providing movement to humans from robotic prosthetics or enabling humans to input some form of communication into a computer by concentrating on specific thoughts or feelings. However, this new project is expected to go above and beyond prior experiments.
NESD manager for DARPA Phillip Alvelda stated, “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.”
At the present time, human-computer interfaces link a large number of neurons at a single time. Usually, somewhere between 100 and 1,000 neurons are connected to a machine. DARPA is seeking to improve this technology by connecting individual neurons. This would offer the human controller much more precise interaction, reduce interference and possibly speed up the communication between the human and the computer.
However, this will be easier said than done. In order to achieve this goal, improvements in neuroscience, synthetic biology, low-power electronics, photonics, medical device manufacturing and packaging must be made. Additionally, there would be a large amount of clinical testing that would need to be conducted.
The ultimate goal for the project is to create something that can be used by the United States military. However, there could be advanced civil applications as well, such as replacing lost limbs, restoring sight and other lost senses and controlling the spread of disease.
The NESD project is a part of a greater initiative launched by the Obama administration to learn more about disorders of the human brain and the effects of brain damage. In 2013, the Obama administration pledged $100 million to conduct research involving the brain.