March 08, 2016

"The U.S. military is spending millions on an advanced implant that would allow a human brain to communicate directly with computers."

CNN: The Pentagon's research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), hopes the implant will allow humans to directly interface with computers, which could benefit people with aural and visual disabilities, such as veterans injured in combat. By Ryan Browne

'The goal of the proposed implant is to "open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics" according to DARPA's program manager, Phillip Alvelda. In January, DARPA announced it plans to spend up to $62 million on the project, which is part of its Neural Engineering System Design program. The implant would be small -- no larger than one cubic centimeter, or roughly the size of two stacked nickels -- according to DARPA. The implantable device aims to convert neurons in the brain into electronic signals and provide unprecedented "data-transfer bandwidth between the human brain and the digital world," according to a DARPA statement announcing the new project.

'However, Steven Pinker, a cognitive scientist and professor of psychology at Harvard, was skeptical of the proposed innovation, calling the idea a "bunch of hype with no results." He told CNN, "We have little to no idea how exactly the brain codes complex information" and cited the problems from foreign objects triggering brain inflammation that can cause serious neurological issues. Pinker described "neural enhancement" for healthy brains as being a "boondoggle," but he suggested that there could be some benefit for people suffering from brain-related diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

'In its announcement, DARPA acknowledged that an implant is still a long ways away, with breakthroughs in neuroscience, synthetic biology, low-power electronics, photonics and medical-device manufacturing needed before the device could be used. DARPA plans to recruit a diverse set of experts in an attempt to accelerate the project's development, according to its statement announcing the project. Pinker remained skeptical, however, telling CNN: "My guess is that it's a waste of taxpayer dollars."'

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