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Australia Biotech United States News Science Technology

Pentagon Research Could Make 'Brain Modem' A Reality (thedailybeast.com) 86

schwit1 writes: The Pentagon is attempting what was, until recently, an impossible technological feat -- developing a high-bandwidth neural interface that would allow people to beam data from their minds to external devices and back. That's right -- a brain modem. One that could allow a soldier to, for example, control a drone with his mind. On Feb. 8, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) -- the US military's fringe-science wing -- announced the first successful tests, on animal subjects, of a tiny sensor that travels through blood vessels, lodges in the brain and records neural activity. The so-called "stentrode," a combination stent and electrode, is the size of a paperclip and flexible. The tiny, injectable machine -- the invention of neurologist Tom Oxley and his team at the University of Melbourne in Australia -- could help researchers solve one of the most vexing problems with the brain modem: how to insert a transmitter into the brain without also drilling a hole in the user's head, a risky procedure under any circumstances.
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Pentagon Research Could Make 'Brain Modem' A Reality

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  • Oh sure (Score:5, Funny)

    by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Sunday February 28, 2016 @01:20PM (#51603505)

    I'm positive that an interface directly into your brain could never be abused, hacked, or compromised.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Your point? Every new tech can be abused. It is a universal truth, there are no exceptions. Further this is no reason at all to reject the tech, but rather to invest in defensive measures.

      Feel free to reject this tech. You and your descendants will wind up living in zoos or wildlife preserves, while the rest of us journey to new cognitive frontiers, self-actualizing in an existence that you can barely imagine.

       

      • Your point?

        If you don't see my point, explaining it probably won't make it any clearer.

        Yes, you can hack my phone. But I can turn my phone off or get a new one.

        -

        while the rest of us journey to new cognitive frontiers, self-actualizing in an existence that you can barely imagine.

        Yes, I'm sure that will be happening any moment now. Will you be able to pay for all that self-actualization in bitcoin?

        • Re:Oh sure (Score:5, Funny)

          by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday February 28, 2016 @01:40PM (#51603599) Homepage

          "With DARPA funding beginning four years ago, Oxley and his team tested the stentrode on sheep ... "

          Interesting choice of testing subject.

          Just say'in....

        • Indeed, the abuse possibilities of a direct brain interface are illustrated in the episode of Black Mirror called White Christmas, which I think is a marvelous piece of science fiction. It can be found on Youtube between periodic DCMA takedowns by BBC, and maybe on Netflix.
          • Indeed, the abuse possibilities of a direct brain interface are illustrated in the episode of Black Mirror called White Christmas, which I think is a marvelous piece of science fiction.

            I liked Black Mirror, I wish they had made more episodes.

            Check out The Diamond Age for some of the upsides and downsides to neural wetware. Lots of benefits, but also lots of potential horrors and abuses.

      • Resistance is futile.

        FTFY

      • You and your descendants will wind up living in zoos or wildlife preserves, while the rest of us journey to new cognitive frontiers, self-actualizing in an existence that you can barely imagine.

        Someone's been drinking the Ray Kurzweil Kool Aid.

    • is the modem bi-directional? i was thinking of netflicks.
    • by gweihir ( 88907 )

      By definition, if the government does it, it is not hacking, abuse or a compromise. It is not torture, murder or criminal in any form either. And if they leave backdoors wide open for others to exploit, this is, of course, entirely the fault of said others and the government cannot be held responsible.

    • I'm positive that an interface directly into your brain could never be abused, hacked, or compromised.

      I'm more worried about the casual way they talked about injecting something the size of a paperclip into a vein.

      • I'm more worried about the casual way they talked about injecting something the size of a paperclip into a vein.

        Some veins are large enough to handle this. Catheters are often routed through veins and some of them are about the diameter of the wire used in a paper clip.

        But still....yeah, it doesn't sound all that attractive.

  • ... how to insert a transmitter into the brain without also drilling a hole in the user's head, a risky procedure under any circumstances....

    And sending a possible clog-producing paper-clip-sized transmitter into the brain via the blood vessels is not a risky procedure?

    • The article describes some general safeguards on the process, but no specifics on how to control exactly where the device goes. Or is the idea to worm a catheter right to the site of implantation before sending the stentrode through it?

      Current "brain control" tech involves using electroencephalography to read electrical emissions of the brain so that, through feedback training, the patient can make willable and repeatable patterns of such electrical activity to do things like move a cursor on a screen and "

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The "stentrode" is essentially a conductive stent which is installed with a catheter.

        Once they add ultrasonic mesh networking to this device: they'll be able to wire up the entire brain with dozens of localized channels on a long term basis. This same technology is already being used to enable sensor arrays to be installed in muscle tissue for use in controlling prosthetic limbs:

        http://neural.iit.edu/research/imes/
        http://www.smpp.northwestern.edu/downloads/Troyk%20P%20IMES%20An%20Implantable%20Myoelectric%2

        • by eyenot ( 102141 )

          That's pretty ambitious, but like many other 90's-like brain drains it has very little real science supporting it.

      • by eyenot ( 102141 )

        I wholeheartedly agree: there's nothing that such an "implant" could do that a little scalp implant or thin, removable helmet could not. People seem to not have a grasp on the measurable electromagnetic power of the brain's output.

        The only reason I can see to implant something like this directly into the brain is so that its removal becomes either impossible or an undesirable decision. Even an EEG trode under the scalp can be dug out in extenuating circumstances; a bluetooth-enabled (or whatever) helmet is

    • by eyenot ( 102141 )

      Also, the article does nothing to explain how the injected implant will pass the blood-brain barrier. So I must assume the thing will be injected directly into the brain's mass. Is that not crude or what? And how is that even a feasible scientific experiment, given how much damage is done to the brain in the process of introducing discontinuities into the tissues with a hypo?

      • The BBB is a barrier between the blood vessels and the brain tissue that surrounds them. Well, barrier in a sort of macroscopic sense - the blood vessel walls are formed of tight junctions between cells. Small molecules like gases can pass, larger items like pathogens cannot. The electrical signals used by an implant like this would pass just fine. You do have a good point, though, if this stent scrapes up the blood brain barrier you'll have your grey matter turned to mush the next time you get an infectio
      • It's shoved up an artery into the brain, and is not in direct contact with neural tissue. It's inside the blood vessel, _adjacent_ to neural tissue. I'm fascinated by the stunning risks of infection if the leads to the device are left entering a blood vessel to the brain, and the well known and well understood bandwidth limitations of implanted medical electronics if it's not.

        • by eyenot ( 102141 )

          I should have assumed so much.

          I thank yourself and the other commenter here pointing out the obvious; I should have considered that the device would not have to cross the blood-giving vessels around the brain in order to function.

          But this does leave some serious health questions:

          * how are you ever going to design an object that does not impede blood flow, as a stent-form or otherwise

          * what amazing, exotic elements is this thing shrouded in, that will both keep the tissues from responding to it and also keep

    • Not if you're about to become a lamb steak anyway.
  • Hey, thanks US government! Another potentially significant applied scientific breakthrough! I'm really glad that our government spends so much on R&D in order to kill people better. Thanks!
    • "I'm really glad that our government spends so much on R&D in order to kill people better."

      The big but is that by making a project military in some way, the government might actually be able to do it without twenty years of oppositional hearings.

  • The so-called "stentrode," a combination stent and electrode, is the size of a paperclip and flexible. The tiny, injectable machine

    What? How could something the size of a paperclip be injectable? Do they mean the diameter of the wire or the size and shape of a paperclip? I'm just having trouble picturing it because it's such a vague comparison.

    • The paperclip analogy is probably a poor one. How about a car analogy. Think of something the size of one of those old glass cylinder fuses.

    • by eyenot ( 102141 )

      Watching television, one thing that comes up on a constant basis are advertisements for viewers to join class action lawsuits against stent manufacturers. It's endemic. But let us not let that stop us from graduating the stent straight to the brain!

      "Straight to the brain!" -- bro chugging a beercan

      I also ask whether this is even a "modem". What does it modulate and demodulate? The article doesn't make that clear. If we're looking for specific brain wave patterns, their existence is either on or off; you wou

    • by Ed_1024 ( 744566 )
      I looked at it too and thought the words -tiny- and -paperclip- didnt really belong together. Something paperclip sized injected into your bloodstream would probably kill you shortly afterwards...
  • The size matters (Score:4, Interesting)

    by eyenot ( 102141 ) <eyenot@hotmail.com> on Sunday February 28, 2016 @01:49PM (#51603657) Homepage

    So, is it "tiny" or is it "the size of a paperclip"? Totally weird contradiction in the write-up.

  • How do you get it back out?
    • by eyenot ( 102141 )

      In another comment, I came to the same conclusion: getting it out again is the most weighty concern.

      An EEG helmet could be thrown away; a scalp implant could be dug out with a knife, a folding can-opener, the butt of a gun, or a rock, etc.

      A brain implant represents an impossible to remove barrier against decision-making.

      I have to conclude that the idea behind the implant is to limit the available tactical decisions of the group so that they can be forced to continue HQ's strategically defined operations.

      Kin

  • 1) It could make a difficult-to-remove tracking device
    2) It could make a difficult-to-defeat-or-even-know-about recording device
    a) Handy if you want to record somebody else, like a cop who stopped you
    b) Not so handy if it could record you without your consent and/or knowledge
    3) It might be something whose records could be subpoenaed, both civilly and criminally
    4) It could be used to control weapons without objects in the hands or movement of the body
    a) You could launch an attack on cops re
    • by eyenot ( 102141 )

      1) It could make a difficult-to-remove tracking device
      2) It could make a difficult-to-defeat-or-even-know-about recording device

      But, if you had one of these in you, at the given time you would already know if you were part of the program or not. You're more concerned with whether these would be used on unawares citizens, which kind of combined all of your points (more addressed, below) into one single point of concern.

      a) Handy if you want to record somebody else, like a cop who stopped you
      b) Not so handy if it could record you without your consent and/or knowledge
      3) It might be something whose records could be subpoenaed, both civilly and criminally

      Frankly, there's not a lot of progress being made in how to translate a few (three to four) brainwave patterns into meaningful human experience. The few brainwaves (somewhat academically arguable in their existence) th

    • (6) You could torture people with such a device without leaving any (or at least very much) physical evidence.
      (7) Someone will figure out how to directly stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain with such a device. That will make meth look like high school kids drinking bad beer on Saturday night.

      • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

        (6) You could torture people with such a device without leaving any (or at least very much) physical evidence.

        No real need for that; if that's your goal, you can waterboard your victims today.

        (7) Someone will figure out how to directly stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain with such a device. That will make meth look like high school kids drinking bad beer on Saturday night.

        On the plus side, that would probably end the drug wars. Why buy heroine from seedy guy when you're just going to need to buy more next week, when you can get this device instead and starve to death after 140 hours of continuous orgasm instead?

  • TBH, we already have high bandwidth interfaces. You can implant electrodes and relay the signals with a cable. The problem isn't so much the interface but the recording itself. Recording from vast numbers of neurons with high resolution (i.e. single cell resolution) is just too invasive: it means inserting very large numbers of electrodes deep into the tissue. The only point of a high-bandwidth interface is to relay data from vast numbers of electrodes and any time you do that it's going to be invasive. The
  • The Warrior's bland acronym, MMI, obscures the true horror of this monstrosity. Its inventors promise a new era of genius, but meanwhile unscrupulous power brokers use its forcible installation to violate the sanctity of unwilling human minds. They are creating their own private army of demons.

    --Commissioner Pravin Lal,
    "Report on Human Rights"
    • by q4Fry ( 1322209 )

      Oh, well. At least we get Copter Chassis.

      It's amusing (and very cynical) that MMI allows the "diplomatic" victory.

  • hahaha (Score:1, Funny)

    by strstr ( 539330 )

    the targeted individuals have been complaining about the Pentagon using this level of technology on them for some time. implant are not new.

    the Pentagon won't tell you they don't use implants in their already deployed synthetic telepathy system. they use radar, and the brain is scanned in real time generating better than FMRI maps, giving the DOD access to your thoughts and memories, communications, and commands to computers. then the system can beam in radar that alters the brain - given the brain is highl

    • Sorry, but anybody seeing Dr. Duncan's name on the page will automatically trigger some of the oldest and most robust pattern matches in The System, which will respond promptly in just the way you'd expect, beaming "don't take this seriously" resonance patterns into the reader's mind.

      That's definitely why everyone just chuckles and shakes their head at your post.

      • by strstr ( 539330 )

        why's that? like all his information checks out. it's clean. he's vetted by insiders still inside government. he's vetted by former CIA op Mark Phillips. Dr. Robert Duncan is the real deal. I personally verified his Harvard attendance including details about his thesis, computer generated holography. I have his Harvard email address. He definitely did the things he claims.

        Here's the mind reading, mind altering patent, to give you a basic idea of it's principals.

        The patent basically describes using phased ar

        • Well, that settles it. If he's got a patent, then it all must be completely legit [lhup.edu].

          With regard to the text of this particular patent, I would have... a number of specific questions. Let's start with "how are you getting adequate nonlinear mixing of radio signals in meat, without cooking said meat?"

    • by eyenot ( 102141 )

      Right-o. And, I personally helped develop the digital platform this artificial telepathic network will be reliant upon, and I actually did name it "SATAN" in version 0.9.310: it's an acronym that stands for:

      Strategic
      And
      Tactical
      Assistance
      Network.

      And so far it's been highly successful in over 1,270 simulations (each of which takes a few days to complete.)

      The platform side of the project has a budget that stands at officially zero dollars (U.S.) though I am allowed to get whatever food and drinks I want from t

  • Blood vessels are designed to carry, you know, blood. I'm not sure I want electrodes starving off the portions of my brain it is recording.

  • This work is not about making Borg soldiers, it is about fixing broken humans to improve their quality of life.

    The author of the article is a chauvinist because this fantastic medical work is Australian, and the brain child of a civilian, http://www.findanexpert.unimel... [unimelb.edu.au]

    Where some of the funding came from for the latest round of animal test is irrelevant.
  • Whoever has this fixation on drilling people's heads needs one right frickin now to unclog his imagination and do more actual research/more science.

  • Firefox, before being known as a Mozilla product, was also a movie title. A plane controlled directly with the mind, in Russian.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt00... [imdb.com]

  • "Size of a paperclip" sounds like something more than big enough to cause a stroke. How are they getting around the blockage issue?
  • the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) -- the US military's fringe-science wing

    Fringe? I wonder if they've ever done anything else useful.

  • On the other hand... this would be a perfect mechanism for what's happened to our hero in Neuromancer, when we first meet him, with the parts of his brain fried....

                      mark

The solution of problems is the most characteristic and peculiar sort of voluntary thinking. -- William James

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