If you have trouble getting your laptop to pair with your Bluetooth headphones, imagine trying to pair it to a chip implanted in your brain.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched a new project Monday to develop an interface that could be implanted in the human skull for "unprecedented signal resolution and data-transfer bandwidth" — a phrase usually reserved for Verizon Fios salespeople — between human brains and computer interfaces.
The new program, called Neural Engineering System Design, wants to harness the electrochemical communication between neurons so that it can be translated to digital signals to control computer programs — or, perhaps, robotics and prosthetics. According to the NESD program manager, the goal is to increase the modem-like bandwidth of current neural interfaces to open up the communication between a digital interface and millions of human neurons.
DARPA claims that such a chip would be about the size of a few small coins stacked one on top of the other.
Why does this exist? DARPA has been working on multiple long-term projects to bring humans and machines closer together. Following President Barack Obama's 2013 BRAIN initiative, DARPA has kickstarted a series of programs that either try to increase connectivity between computers and the human brain or further understand how the brain works to increase our understanding of artificial intelligence.
In August DARPA began using music — specifically jazz — to help teach computers how to have natural, improvisational and useful communications with humans. And in June, at the Biology Is Technology conference, DARPA program manager Doug Weber challenged third-party labs to develop scientific ways to control soldiers' adrenal response — adjusting their fear and anxiety in high-stress situations.
While DARPA often advertises its new projects as attempts to achieve great humanitarian goals, like helping the disabled or creating robots that can aid in rescue operations, let's not forget that DARPA is an agency of the Defense Department. Military innovations trickle out to the public all the time (like, say, the internet), but the primary goal of programs like NESD is to make soldiers more efficient, safe and deadly.