Even though it seems like something out of a sci-fi movie, the U.S. government is serious about mind-controlled weapons. The possibilities they are working on have implications for civilians and military spheres.
According to a Live Science report, Jacob Robinson, an assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice University, describes the basic idea like this:
“There’s this latency, where if I want to communicate with my machine, I have to send a signal from my brain to move my fingers or move my mouth to make a verbal command, and this limits the speed at which I can interact with either a cyber system or physical system. So the thought is maybe we could improve that speed of interaction.”
By cutting out the middle man — namely everything between your brain and an action — researchers think they can turn a human into a superhuman.
Robinson is heading up this project with DARPA, the research branch of the Department of Defense.
Of course, exposure to war comes with certain risks, no matter how you do it.
A 2017 NPR report found that remote drone operators can develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the experience, and reported witnessing more than 100 incidents of rape or torture. This remains compelling evidence that, though we can build more perfect soldiers, we can’t build less fragile brains.
In order to accomplish this symbiosis of humanity and technology, the government is looking into brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). Implanting the device via brain surgery for an otherwise healthy adult could prove risky, but minimally invasive techniques are being developed.
Robinson refers to the brain as the “final frontier”, but these initiatives, designed to create mind-controlled weapons, are just as likely to spark fear as excitement. In shows like Black Mirror, Netflix’s massively popular sci-fi series, technologies like this are newly or readily available to the public. However, the show consistently warns viewers about the sometimes inescapable consequences of breakthroughs in technology.
Throughout the show’s run, its tech showcases features that bring the human and the machine closer than ever before, including:
- Memory recall (“The Entire History of You”)
- Fascimiles of loved ones who’ve passed away, created using their social media (“Be Right Back”)
- Entire, perfect digital replications of people (“White Christmas”)
- Ranked realities where people are treated as the sum of social media profiles (“Nosedive”)
One of the most overt examples is the episode “Men Against Fire,” in which a military private has his hardware damaged, and realizes that his entire experience has been co-opted by the Army. This includes what he sees, smells, and even believes. And in a moment seemingly ripped straight from headlines, “U.S.S. Callister” shows a highly competent computer scientist controlling a virtual world by inserting a microchip into his temple — the same kind of minimally invasive procedure Robinson and his team crave.
— The Verge (@verge) October 28, 2016
From Hollywood’s obsession with an impending robotic apocalypse to actual breakthroughs in the field, excitement is reckless and tentative for both the laity and the experts.
The Live Science report also noted a project in progress with the nonprofit research institute Battelle, looking to kickstart interest in mind-controlled drones:
The group wants to let humans control multiple drones using their thoughts alone, while feedback about things like acceleration and position go directly to the brain.
— Battelle (@Battelle) May 1, 2019
Accomplishing the task will take leaps forward in genetics, neuroscience, and biotechnology in tandem. DARPA is far from its goals, but not as far as they once were. However, if our dark imagination regarding these technologies is any indication, we shouldn’t wait until later to answer the difficult ethical questions this research poses.
Featured image provided via Netflix