Search Results for: DARPA

DARPA on the Brain

Neuron News from DPR has highlighted some interesting activity from DARPA in the past (read more) with its involvement in neurological research and technology developments. With the “Grand Challenge” introduced in April 2013 by the Obama administration called the BRAIN Initiative (“Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies”), we clearly noticed that half of the dedicated $100 million in funds were to be delegated to future work out of DARPA. Now, months later, the military research branch has finally released two open calls for grant applications to spread around some of these monies to more organizations. 

DARPA-SUBNET_1The first program call is for a project called SUBNETS (“Systems-Based Neurotechnology for Emerging Therapies”), which is searching for new technologies that will allow near real-time quantitative measurements of brain activity to then control implanted neural stimulation devices. Out of context, this might sound like an attempt at developing controllable cyborgs, but the focus of this specific proposal is to create a health care advancement that will support the recovery and repair of U.S. service members who have experienced neurological injuries and neuropsychological illness from war-time activities. According to the proposal, ten percent of veterans today are receiving mental health care or substance abuse counseling from the VA. With implantable devices controlled by real-time recording and analysis as proposed by SUBNETS, neuropsychiatry will take a major leap beyond lying on the couch and talking it out with a trained professional with a notepad. 

The second call from DARPA is called RAM (“Restoring Active Memory”) and continues in the vein of supporting veterans with brain injuries. Here, the goal is to develop innovative neurotechnologies that utilize an understanding of the neural encoding of memories — something that is not yet even remotely understood — to recover memory after brain injury. The anticipation is to have an implantable device that clicks on to recover the lost memories. 

RAM seems to carry a rather far-reaching goal that could only be successful with a complete understanding of the structural and functional neural correlations of a human being’s memory. The added difficulty is that if it is assumed that memories are directly encoded in the specific architecture of neuron connections and the resulting functional relationships, then a traumatic brain injury could be defined as an event that directly destroys these connections. So to recover lost memories, one might expect that a digital “brain dump” would be necessary to be stored (securely in the cloud?) before a soldier heads off to battle. 

With both the SUBNETS and RAM programs, exciting new technologies and advancements might be possible. However, in the descriptions above there are a plethora of ethical, security, and privacy issues left unmentioned only for the reader to speculate upon. To address these sorts of issues that always exist on the leading edge of technological developments, DARPA has also established an Ethical, Legal and Social Implications Panel composed of academics, medical ethicists, clinicians, and researchers to advise and guide the new programs as well as provide some form of independent oversight during their progress.


 

DARPA Aims to Rebuild BrainsScience 29 November 2013 Vol. 342 no. 6162 pp. 1029-1030 

 

 

DARPA’s Path to The Singularity

On May 5, 2009 DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) announced that it is preparing to begin an exciting new research program that may be the most ambitious and direct effort by the United States Government to to push human technology closer to the edge of the awaiting Singularity. The program is referred to as Physical Intelligence, and DARPA is currently soliciting interested research groups to develop project proposals for submission. The ultimate goal of the effort will be to fundamentally understand the physical phenomenon of intelligence and to then demonstrate the characteristic in a man-made electronic or chemical system.

Although you might have considered taking on this problem yourself this weekend, it’s understandable if a week’s worth of yard work and Mother’s Day preparations took a critical priority. Leaving this project to large governmental agencies and massive academic and industrial collaborations may be the best idea for your personal work-load at this time.

The funding levels for the Physical Intelligence program have not yet been set, as they will be later determined depending on the details of winning proposals. This could be an effective blank check from the Federal Government supporting a potentially mammoth project that would do nothing less than transform humanity. Why go back to th Moon when we could instead solve one of the most fundamental questions of our species. In the meantime, America could certainly regain our stature of being the primary scientific center on Planet Earth.

What is particularly interesting about this solicitation is that DARPA has explicitly limited the theoretical framework from which researchers may pursue the solution to understanding Physical Intelligence. They make the bold claim that the phenomenon of intelligence emerges directly from thermodynamic processes in the human brain or an engineered machine. Any proposal that contains alternate viewpoints will automatically be rejected from consideration for funding.

At first, it may seem that starting with thermodynamics is too limiting for theoretical progress in modeling intelligent behavior. As a basic starting point, the science of thermodynamics looks at characteristics that emerge from a system composed of effectively infinite parts. For example, the measured temperature of your steak flaming on the grill is just the collective measurement of the motion of trillions of meat atoms and molecules. At other levels, the theory models the transfer of energy between systems and measures the slightly odd variable of entropy, which essentially characterizes how messed up the observed system is. In other words, the shattered glass just knocked to the floor by your coordination-lacking infant son has a higher entropy than it did moments before while sitting peacefully on the dinning room table.

But, we aren’t just talking about heat engines that convert a hot flame into mechanical motion and the phase transition we experience every day while boiling water into steam over a hot stove. Thermodynamics and the broader field of statical mechanics represent the fundamental physics that underlie all of the relatively new ideas of self-organization, complex systems, network architecture and many other concepts that are driving the latest in brain science. Maybe DARPA really is on to something theoretical and, even if they don’t know the answers to life’s biggest questions just yet, they certainly know how to keep their funding solicitations general enough to allow for a broad range of scientific collaborators to jump on board … if they are only brave enough.

The Physical Intelligence program is organized around three levels of critical milestones. The first step is to develop a mathematical theory of the thermodynamics of intelligence and then to represent this theory in a producible system. Second, the aforementioned engineered system must be built and successfully demonstrate intelligence. Third, and finally, additional tools must be developed and designed to further analyze and monitor the created intelligent systems.

The other key limitation to this solicitation is that proposers must be able to submit plans that cover not just a portion of these three milestones, but they must be prepared to take the project all the way to home plate. This is Nobel Prize territory, folks, and anyone who is prepared to tackle human species-altering projects must be ready for the ride of a lifetime.

The boldness of the program is nothing less than what would be expected from proud United States scientists, and the American society is certainly ready for another “One small step for man… one giant leap for mankind.” It certainly is an exciting moment to see the interest, dedication, and–of course, most importantly–financial backing of the Federal Government be honed onto the advancement of machines that match, or even exceed, the level of human intelligence that we effortlessly demonstrate every day.

The State of Neurotechnology in 2018

It has been awhile since we last posted about neurotechnology. So, where do things stand today? Where are the cyborgs already? Where is our unlimited memory capacity? Interesting developments bring the brain and technology are trotting along, and there is still a long, and exciting path up ahead. Two recent articles from The Guardian and The Economist highlight some aspects of the current state of neurotechnologies, so these seem like a great place to get back up to speed. 

Just as many of the world’s most insanely rich people are deeply dabbling in out-of-this-planet endeavors, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, others are dropping big dollars a bit more inwardly – into our brain. Paul Allen (of Microsoft founding fame) funded the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and Elon Musk (wait, where have we heard that name before?) started Neuralink as major initiatives to jump-start our brains into a future where we are directly connected to our technological creations. Just as in the latest round in the space race, with all of these privately funded ventures, things will get real interesting, real fast.

 “Neurotechnology, Elon Musk and the goal of human enhancement,” The Guardian, January 1, 2018

So, how are we going to arrive at our point in human evolution where are brains are interfaced with non-biological computational power? What might keep us from reaching this state, and even if when so, how might it change our definition of being human?  

Three scientists from the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering at the University of Washington take on these questions and more in their report for The Economist at … 

 “Grey matter, red tape: In search of serendipity,” The Economist, originally appearing the print edition of the Technology Quarterly, January 6, 2018.

There are many wild, ominous, and crazy-cool efforts in progress many of which are already appearing in our hospital recovery rooms. It will only be a matter of time before more tangible advancements in neurotechnology will show up in our neighborhoods. 

What do you think? Will you be ready to jack your brain into the machine? 

 

US Intelligence Reviews the Future Role of Neurotechnology

Today, the National Research Council released a 202-page report covering the current developments in research related to cognitive neuroscience, and provides extensive recommendations to the United States intelligence community on what issues and technologies should be closely monitored. The progress in this broad field is rapid, and the NRC clearly states that our intelligence efforts are at a disadvantage with a low number of qualified agents involved in analyzing developments and providing recommendations to decision makers.

The report was commissioned by the Defense Intelligence Agency to identify neurotechnologies that will develop within the next twenty years, with a particular focus on potential military applications and their implications.

Detailed analysis of current and future technologies for the detection of deception,neuropsychopharmacologyfunctional neuroimagingcomputational biology, anddistributed human-machine systems are covered in the extensive report. In addition, the ethical and cultural ramifications of these neurotechnologies are reviewed by the reporting team.

Although the report focuses on specific, yet mostly still speculative, technological advancements, it’s primary goal is to provide a guideline to help the intelligence community improve itself so that it may more effectively detect, monitor, and evaluate the developments at home and (more importantly) abroad. It seems to say–rather blatantly–that neurotechnology will be a critical player in the future of our world, and very possibly the future of our world-wide military environment, and that our intelligence agencies are currently poorly equipped from an academic level to nimbly deal with these technologies as they present themselves from other nations or even from terrorist organizations.

In other words, it is time to take neurotechnology very seriously and bring our intelligence community up to par–and hopefully surpass the level–with this developing field.

By covering the broad range of current estimates as to what forms of neurotechnologies might find their way into military operations, the report also appears to provide an overview of where this research could lead our society. Many of the applications are certainly not wholly appealing, and would certainly lead to a future world that might be even more scary to live in–in a much more subtle way–than that of the previous world of “duck-and-cover“.

In particular, a recent article written by Tom Burghardt for Global Research.ca , was a bit of a “freak-out” over DARPA‘s “mysterious” efforts of military applications of neuroscience, referred to as “operational neuroscience.” Neuron News optioned not to feature the article here as the author “preferred” to use too many “quotes” to emphasize “scary” words and “phrases.” The “article” also created quite a “flood” of blogging in the “anti-government” and “everyone-is-out-to-get-us” community, that we felt we should keep out of the fray at the time. (We also feel that we should relax on the “quotes”!)

There are serious implications of neurotechnologies, and many of them could result in situations very undesirable for the continued long-term success of our species. However, it is important that we approach the developments not as political scare-mongers, but as educated citizen scientists who may appreciate the potentials of the technologies, and understand them well enough that we might also appropriately evaluate their ethical implications.

“Uncle Sam Wants Your Brain” :: Wired :: August 13, 2008 :: [ READ ]

“Report: spies need to stay on top of neuroscience research” :: ars technia :: August 13, 2008 :: [ READ ]

“Brain will be battlefield of future, warns US intelligence report” :: The Guardian, UK :: August 13, 2008 :: [ READ ]

“Emerging Cognitive Neuroscience and Related Technologies” :: [ READ THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ] from The National Academies Press

Last updated May 25, 2020