Thursday, May 20, 2010

DARPA Interested in Brain Implants... BEWARE!

There are a couple of good articles that have come out recently that I both LOVE and FEAR! I have placed their URLs at the end of this commentary.
Basically, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is looking to sponsor research into using implants to help victims (war victims) of brain trauma heal! If indeed this is truly their endgoal, then I am all for it... If a part of the brain was traumatized and no longer works and is dormant, the promise for the future is that a brain implant can help resurrect that part of the brain through artificial stimulation. Remember that neurons are like muscles... If you don't use them, you lose them. So by artificially stimulating neurons that were damaged, it essentially jump starts their recovery and helps re-strengthen their previous programming. For example, let's say the specific neural net that was damaged was the network that recognizes the letters S and number 8 when read in from the optic nerves. A person with damage to that net may no longer be able to recognize those digits. However, by artificially stimulating that network, disrupted connections can regrow and reconnect according the previous network program. And in theory, heal the trauma and restore the victim's ability to recognize the letter S and the number 8. This is fantastic! This is great and I am all for it... However, their can be a darker side to all this....
Now imagine we have a soldier who is a victim of brain trauma that comes in for brain implant therapy. Well, of course, the VA hospital inserts a brain implant that helps recover the brain trauma, but while they are already with the skull opened up, let's say they also implant a couple of additional probes that stimulate other neural nets in the victim's brain. Which neural nets specifically would the military be interested in controlling???? I could name dozens, but let me name just a few to give you a taste....
1. The neural nets that process pain. This would allow the soldier to fight on even when he would normally be in excruciating pain. Great!!! A good way to make heros out of our soldiers!
2. The neural nets that process fear. Hmmmm... imagine being able to turn off a soldier's fear in the battlefield by the flip of a switch! That could be very advantageous to the military! OR if they do NOT want to a soldier to CHARGE up the hill at a certain point in time... they flip the fear switch ON and the soldier then decides to NOT charge simply out of fear.
3. The neural nets that process other emotions. We all know that emotions have a way of ramping up adrenaline and that could help in the battlefield... OR specifically, they could target those nets that control the natural release of adrenaline.
4. The neural nets that give the soldier a feeling of loyalty or "duty". Already, this programming takes place in bootcamp. It is just not done at the neural level. But imagine if it could be done! It would mean fewer soldiers going AWOL. It would mean soldiers who better follow orders...ANY ORDER!
5. The neural nets that control certain motor functions like targeting and shooting. If that could be sped up through artificial means, that would be very advantageous to the military. Soldiers with the ability to target and shoot their victims as fast as machines do.
6. The neural nets that are used for location sensing. While Luke Skywalker used the force to know where to go to find his enemy, imagine a soldier being guided remotely through feelings of where to turn and where to walk to. Our future soldiers may use another "force" to find their enemies.
7. The neural nets associated with any type of specific training. At night, while dreaming, networks associated with a certain military goal can be trained. Then, at the will of the controller, these networks can be activated during the daytime thus giving the soldier the desire or the impulse to accomplish the trained goal. What if the goal was to do something that the soldier would never do. However, with the programming done by the implant, what was once considered impossible in the realm of expected behavior can now be possible. This is a way to override the soldier's personal programming.

Soldiers of the future (I feel for them) will surely be the Guinea Pigs for this type of development. However, once perfected, the next step would be to use implants for the common folks. Now you see why this type of research makes me FEAR! Hmmmm... perhaps I need an implant to fix that fear!

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