DARPA wants soldiers to control extremely powerful military drone aircraft with their minds.
Warfare these days is waged from longer and longer distances. The U.S. Army is incorporating pilotless-craft technologies to create an imposing arsenal of large-scale, weaponized, remotely-controlled systems, ready to dominate any battlefield.
One new military superweapon is a drone that has the ominous name of MQ-9 Reaper. The U.S. Air Force says the Reaper is “larger and more heavily-armed than the MQ-1 Predator and attacks time-sensitive targets with persistence and precision, to destroy or disable those targets.”
The MQ-9 comes with the Multi-Spectral Targeting System, “which has a robust suite of visual sensors for targeting,” according to the Air Force. The system combines “an infrared sensor, color/monochrome daylight TV camera, image-intensified TV camera, laser range finder /designator, and laser illuminator.”
Furthermore, the MQ-9 targeting system is streamin’ and screamin’: “The full-motion video from each of the imaging sensors can be viewed as separate video streams or fused,” claims the Air Force.
But all those nifty, expensive, high-tech features weren’t enough for the ever-questing, federally-funded, top-secret folks at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Oh no. Now, they are developing a computer interface system that bridges aircraft crew to control systems – but bypasses the computer altogether.
DARPA unveiled their new Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program in January 2016. Its goal was “to develop an implantable neural interface able to provide unprecedented signal resolution and data-transfer bandwidth between the human brain and the digital world.”
In July 2017, DARPA gots its hands on $65 million and spent it on solving the direct brain-to-computer connection by awarding “contracts to five research organizations and one company that will support the Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program.”
The interface is being designed to translate neural electrochemical language in the brain and convert them into binary code (ones and zeroes) that a computer can interpret. All of this in a device slated to be no bigger than one cubic centimeter – about the same as two nickels stacked together.
Up to now, the neural interfaces were large and needed to be implanted into the brain by means of a very invasive surgery. Silicon- or metal-based electrodes made direct contact with brain tissue. This type of implant operation has inherent risks, according to DARPA.
The NESD program is looking for a non-invasive way to bridge the human brain and artificial intelligence. Soldiers will be able to wear external, non-surgical neural interfaces to both record and stimulate the brain signals and transmit them to and from a digital interface.
The NESD application uses one computer to get the signals of the test subject and sends them to another computer that processes them. The final commands to the robotic aircraft are relayed through Bluetooth.
The integration of Swarm Robotics (controlling swarms of robots) with Brain Computer Interface technology is being explored by other researchers who call it Brain Swarm Interface (BSI). The user can “control the swarm’s size and motion employing just thoughts and eye movements.”
BSI underlies the DARPA NESD initiative, too. An unidentified source working on the Army project said:
“We started with the idea of human swarm interaction. We record it from the brain. We actually saw that the brain really cares about the collective behaviors of swarms. And now we know where to record them, and what to see from the brain signals in order to decode.”
DARPA’s mind-to-aircraft control system has wires attached to electrodes that are placed strategically on a headpiece worn by the pilot. The electrodes pick up brain signals.
Advanced computer algorithms (unambiguous procedures for solving a mathematical problem) decipher what the person is thinking. The operator can control the aircraft with mental projection.
DARPA has been around for decades, developing all sorts of far-out science fiction-y offensive and defensive military gadgets and weapons systems.
For example, Maj. Ed Dames studied remote viewing – finding an identified target psychically – and formalized a replicable protocol that anyone can learn.
Elon Musk of Tesla electric cars and SpaceX rocketry, announced the formation of his new company, Neuralink, that is working to perfect an “ultra high bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers.” And good news: they are hiring “exceptional engineers and scientists!” (No neuroscience experience is required.)
So far, research in neurotechnology has focused on treating paralysis and severe motor disabilities. Some scientists are optimistic about applying new brain-computer technologies to treat major depression and, perhaps, to detect and halt epileptic seizures.
But DARPA must have missed that memo. This organization is used to leading, not following. The hush-hush research and development agency proclaims on its website that:
“For sixty years, DARPA has held to a singular and enduring mission: to make pivotal investments in breakthrough technologies for national security.”
They say national security, some of us say an open door to national oppression.