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The government is serious about creating mind-controlled weapons

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DARPA, the Ministry of Defence research arm, is paying scientists to think of ways to directly read the soldiers ‘ minds the use of tools such as genetic manipulation of the human brain, nanotechnology and infrared rays. The final goal? Thought-controlled weapons, such as swarms of drones that someone could send to the sky with a single thought or the ability to beam images from one brain to the other.

This week, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has announced that six teams will receive funding in the framework of the Next Generation of non-Surgical Neurotechnology (N3) program. The participants are tasked with developing technology which is a two-way channel for fast and seamless communication between the human brain and machines without surgery.

“Imagine that someone is that the operation of a drone or someone who might analyze much of the data,” said Jacob Robinson, an assistant professor in bio-engineering at Rice University, who is leading one of the teams. [DARPA ‘s 10 Best Projects: From Humanoid Robots to Flying Cars]

“There is this latency, where as I want to communicate with my machine, I have to send a signal from my brain to my fingers or my mouth to make a verbal command, and this limits the speed with which I can communicate with a cyber-system or the physical system. So the idea is maybe we can improve the speed of the interaction.”

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That can be critical if smart machines and a flood of data threatening to overwhelm the man, and eventually find applications in the military and the civilian domains, Robinson said.

The promotion of mind control

Although there are breakthroughs in our ability to read and even write data to the brain, these developments have generally used on the brain implants in patients, allowing the doctors to monitor conditions, such as epilepsy.

The brain surgery is too risky to justify this, interfaces in able-bodied people, however, and with a current external brain-monitoring methods such as electroencephalography (EEG) in which electrodes are attached directly to the scalp — are inaccurate. As such, DARPA is trying to encourage a breakthrough in non-invasive or minimally-invasive brain-computer interfaces (BCIs).

The agency is interested in systems that can read and write to 16 independent locations in a part of the brain, the size of a pea with a delay of no more than 50 milliseconds within four years, said Robinson, who is under no illusion about the scale of the challenge.

“When you try to capture the brain activity through the skull, it is difficult to know where the signals come from and when and where the signals are generated,” he told Live Science. “So the big challenge is, can we on the absolute limits of our resolution, both in space and time?”

Genetic tuning of the human brain

To do this, Robinson’s team is planning to use viruses modified to deliver genetic material into cells, the so-called viral vectors to insert DNA in specific neurons that they produce two types of proteins. [Flying Saucers to Mind Control: 22 Declassified Military and CIA Secrets]

The first type of protein absorbs light when a neuron is firing, which makes it possible to detect neural activity. An external headset would send a beam of infrared light that passes through the skull and the brain. Detectors connected to the headset, then measure the small-signal which is reflected from the brain tissue to create an image of the brain. Because of the proteins, the targeted areas will get darker (to absorb light) when neurons fire, the generating of a reading of the brain activity that can be used to work out what the person is, to see, to hear or to try to do.

The second protein tethers to magnetic nanoparticles, so that the neurons can be magnetically stimulated to the fire when the headset generates a magnetic field. This can be used to stimulate neurons, so that the generation of an image or sound in the patient’s mind. As a proof-of-concept, the group intends to use the system to transmit images from the visual cortex from one person to the other.

“Being able to decode encode sensory experiences is something we understand relatively well,” Robinson said. “On the bleeding edge of the science, I think we will, if we have the technology to do it.”

Talk with drones

A group of the non-profit research institute, Battelle is taking a more ambitious challenge. The group wants to let the man control multiple drones using their minds only, while feedback about things like the acceleration and the position, go directly to the brain.

“Joysticks and computer cursors are more or less one-way devices,” says senior research scientist Gaurav Sharma, who leads the team. “But now we are thinking of a person to control multiple drones; and it is two-way, so if the drone is moving left, you get a sensory signal in your brain to tell you that moving to the left.”

The plan of the group is based on specially designed nanoparticles with magnetic cores and piezo-electric outer shells, which means that the shells can convert mechanical energy to electrical and vice versa. The particles are injected or nasally administered and magnetic fields will guide them to specific neurons.

When a specially designed headset applies a magnetic field to target neurons, the magnetic core will move and exert stress on the outer shell for generating an electric pulse that makes the neuron fire. The process also works in reverse, with the electrical impulses of firing neurons is converted into small magnetic fields that are picked up by the detectors in the headset.

The translation of that process in the control of drones will not be easy, says Sharma, but he enjoyed the challenge DARPA has laid out. “The brain is the last frontier in medical science,” he said. “We understand so little of, that is what makes it very exciting to do research in this area.”

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Originally published on Live Science.

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