The US government is investing in brain-chip technology that could one day enable people to communicate telepathically. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been granted $65m to develop the tiny computers, which would be the size of a silver dollar, over a four-year period.
The “neurograin” implants, which could be worn as a headset or embedded within the cerebral cortex, would work by using sensors to detect how the brain processes and decodes spoken language. This would involve recording electrochemical signals from more than one million neurons at any one time and then translating them into computer language, i.e. ones and zeros.
DARPA has been leading the field of brain-machine interface technology since the 1970s. However, in the early 2000s, technical improvements in computers and sensors created new capabilities and opportunities for research. Since then, it has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the technology.
The neurograin research hopes to make the process of electrochemical to computer translation happen at a far greater scale than what is currently possible.
“By increasing the capacity of advanced neural interfaces to engage more than one million neurons in parallel, NESD aims to enable rich two-way communication with the brain at a scale that will help deepen our understanding of that organ’s underlying biology, complexity, and function,” says Phillip Alvelda, the founding NESD Program Manager, in a statement from DARPA.
The technology could enable us to mentally communicate with machines as well as each other. In theory, it could allow us to drive cars, send emails and play computer games with our minds.
It could also be used to treat brain injuries or restore sight and hearing loss. For example, some of the six research teams working on the project will be focused on how the technology could improve sight while others will concentrate on hearing and speech.
Question marks still remain over the feasibility of DARPA’s plans, in particular the timeframe – with researchers given four years to make the technology a reality. However, if realized the ambitious project could have a life-changing effect on millions of people worldwide and will, at the very least, surely push the field of research further forward.