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 , 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

Water Blitz in the Rockies

Citizen scientists high up in the Rocky Mountains today were “blitz-ing” for water samples at hundreds of locations through the Rocky Mountain National Park. Researchers are massing together to monitor water conditions all over the park — at approximately the same instant in time.

This research, which can only be accomplished with the outstanding efforts of many citizen science volunteers, will help guide professionals on understanding the greater habitat, and how and where external nutrients like fertilizers and other pollutants are affecting the environment.
“‘Blitz’ to test water at hundreds of locations in Rocky Mountain National Park” :: Rocky Mountain News :: August 11, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Carbon Nanotubes May Enhance Neurotechnology Device

Taking direct electrical measurements from a living brain and even from a single neuron cell requires an invasive connection between the localized electrochemical environment in the cell and a sharp, prickly, prodding metal stake of death.

An electrode might sound harmless, but it can take the form of a gigantic (in the reference frame of a tiny neuron) metallic (or other electrical conducting material) needle that could either damage living tissue, or be rejected by the hosting biological system and quickly bombarded in tissue to effectively disengage the pointy invader.

image courtesy

Recently, a collaboration lead by Edward Keefer from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, has discovered that coating these harmful–but, necessarily formed–electrical recording devices with the ever popular carbon nanotube is the neuron’s newest fuzzy best friend. The nanotubues act to not only enhance the transmitted signals received from directly implanted electrodes, but they have been shown to be bio-compatible, so that they might even minimize the damage caused to the specimen. In fact, Keefer claims the efficiency of the cell-electrode interface is improved by at least one-thousand times.

The development of neurotechnological devices–hardware that interconnects directly with nervous tissue and even individual neurons–is absolutely dependent on not only the production of electrical connections that will result in highly sensitive signal transmission, but the cells will must also like to have these needles sticking around. The carbon nanotube coating approach could be a critical step in advancing neurotechnology to a future level of high-res recording devices as well as localized, highly-controllable stimulus systems.

“Carbon Nanotube-Coated Electrodes Improve Brain Readouts” :: :: August 12, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Stick It to the Moon where the Sun don't Shine in 2009

During the Summer of 2009, NASA will torpedo a big barrel of metal into a forever dark spot on the Moon producing an explosion on the order of 2,000 pounds of dynamite. The Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) is designed to target a location that is permanently located in a shadow of the Sun where there is a possibility of having water ice stored at the constant estimated temperature of 40 degrees above absolute zero.

We won’t actually be able to see the crash on the surface, but the plume is what is of interest … if water ice existed in the dark spot, then it might be thrown up into the hyper-thin atmosphere and water molecules vaporized into constituent H and OH, which can then be detected by their characteristic wavelengths.

Let alone that this mission is the first critical experimental step to returning human beings to the Moon — for permanent residence — but, the greatest part of this lunar research program is that NASA will be scheduling the event so that amateur astronomers in Hawaii and the western United States will be able to monitor the action from their backyard telescopes (as well as professional astronomers with their multi-million dollar telescopes).

Learn more about the LCROSS mission by following the links below and find out how you can take part in the experiment. Mission scientists believe that the impact plume will be visible from amateur-class telescopes with apertures as small as 10 to 12 inches. NASA will be activity soliciting images from the public and will be posting additional information on this outstanding opportunity on their website.

DPRI AmSci Journal will keep a watch on the developments, so stay tuned! (And, be sure to register with DPRI to receive free email updates!)

“A Flash of Insight: LCROSS Mission Update” :: Science@NASA :: August 11, 2008 :: [ READ ]

NASA LCROSS Mission to the Moon [ VIEW ]

“NASA LCROSS Strategy & Astronomer Observation Campaign” :: [ LEARN MORE ]

Citizen Scientists to Monitor Migratory Birds in South Africa

A new citizen science survey of migratory birds in South Africa is being launched this week by the Ndlovu Node of the SA Environmental Observation Network. Locals will record observations of the arrival of specific species to help track the migratory behavior, which might be related to potential issues in regional climate change. In particular, as habitats change, birds will migrate to alternate areas that might better match their climate preferences.

View Larger Map of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

This study is expanding on results earlier this year from the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which found significant decreases in migrations of certain bird species from Africa into Europe.

“Migrating on a wing and a prayer” :: IOL: News for South Africa and the World :: August 9, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Get involved in the South Africa Environmental Observation Network [ VIEW ]

Diffusion Spectrum Imaging Maps the Neuron Network of a Marmoset Monkey

This is an update to a previous Neuron News posting reviewing a new whole brain imaging technique–called Diffusion Spectrum Imaging–that tracks the flow of water molecules through axons to map neural interconnectivity. The research group has completed the imaging on a marmoset monkey, and the full three-dimensional animation of the result is now presented online.

The map was produced from a 24-hour scan of a dissected brain with a spatial resolution of 400 microns. View the animation and look closely at all of the intricate fiber pathways and interesting network patterns that are present. The level of complexity is not close to that of a human, but the system is certainly complex enough to begin the work on detailing the network to further understand brain function.

To be clear, each visualized pathway in the map does not represent a single axonal strand. However, it corresponds to hundreds of thousands of fibers that are all networked in approximately the same direction. So, this imaging technique does not resolve the network down to each individual connection, but an averaged view of large groups of connections.

“The Brain Unmasked” :: Technology Review by MIT :: August 6, 2008 :: [ READ ]

Slide show of Monkey Brain Scanned with DSI [ VIEW ]
Video Animation of 3D Results [ VIEW ]

Last updated May 25, 2020