By now it’s not exactly news that the U.S. military would love nothing more than to create mind-controlled soldiers. Since the inception of Activist Post they been reporting about technologies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation that could be added to soldiers’ helmets as a way of altering their brain activity.
DARPA, at the behest of the Pentagon, has been at the forefront of nearly all military mind control programs and continues to invest tens of millions of taxpayer funds into moving this technology forward. They have looked at various methods, via remote brain wave stimulation as well as the more direct microchip implant (Neural Engineering System Design in their parlance) in order to create the much-touted “super soldier” of the future.
However, DARPA’s new round of investment seeks to go beyond what has even been discussed thus far. As reported by Nextgov, the future soldier would mentally link up with the various weapons systems at their disposal. Disturbingly, this would also be a two-way system that could enable the systems to transmit information back to the soldier as well.
Today, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is selecting teams to develop a “neural interface” that would both allow troops to connect to military systems using their brainwaves and let those systems transmit back information directly to users’ brains.
The Next-Generation Non-Surgical Neurotechnology, or N3, program aims to combine the speed and processing power of computers with humans’ ability to adapt to complex situations, DARPA said. In other words, the technology would let people control, feel and interact with a remote machine as though it were a part of their own body.
As Nextgov correctly points out later in the article, this technology has been openly sought since at least the 1960’s, and they have since proven that at least limited brain-computer interface programs are operable. However, this largely has been done in the area of prosthetics for the disabled, or the aforementioned limited tests with brainwave stimulus through a helmet.
DARPA’s new program incorporates the use of chemicals to interact with sensors. In so doing, researchers believe they can create the desired two-way system of data transference. As is typical of DARPA announcements, the ultimate applications for this technology, if ever successful, are downplayed even as they clearly state the vast implications — fully mind-controlled weapons systems. My emphasis added…
While those capabilities might fuel conspiracy theories about government mind-reading and mind-control, Emondi (DARPA program manager – Ed.) told Nextgov that won’t be the case—scientists are only beginning to figure out how the brain’s 100 billion neurons interact, so controlling those interactions is next to impossible. Instead, he said it’s better to think of N3 technology as means to use to a computer or smartphone without a mouse, keyboard or touch screen.
(Wait for it…)
He theorized the interface could be used to help a pilot coordinate a fleet of drones with their thoughts or troops to control a remotely deployed robot by using their brain’s motor signals. He added cybersecurity specialists could even connect to the system to monitor different parts of a computer network with their physical bodies.
“We don’t think about N3 technology as simply a new way to fly a plane or to talk to a computer, but as tool for actual human-machine teaming,” Emondi said. “As we approach a future in which increasingly autonomous systems will play a greater role in military operations, neural interface technology can help warfighters build a more intuitive interaction with these systems.”
As for ethics? They are supposedly being considered, or at least are being acknowledged as difficult terrain.
Given the intensely personal nature of the technology, DARPA is requiring designs to comply with a number of health and safety requirements, and also address any potential cybersecurity concerns. While today the project’s biggest ethical questions relate to safety and risk of testing, “if N3 is successful,” Emondi said, “I anticipate we could face questions related to agency, autonomy and the experience of information being communicated to a user.”
Participating teams will have four years to create a working neural interface. DARPA declined to comment on the project’s funding levels.
As I always caution in articles about this type of technology, there is every possibility that it is a typical military solicitation for funding yet another boondoggle program. The human brain is literally infinite in its complexity, and the mind is likely not a matter of merely controlling 1’s and 0’s. But we would be naive to discount the military’s long-term commitment to mind control systems of all types.
Written by Nicholas West