One day we could all be The One, if the US military has its way with us, that is. The US military has revealed its $65 million funding for a Matrix-like project that sees them working on a 'brain chip' that would let you plug yourself into a computer.
The new system would give soldiers supersenses, and could double as treatment for the blind, those with paralysis, and speech disorders. DARPA officials said that their goal was "developing an implantable system able to provide precision communication between the brain and the digital world". DARPA has selected five recipients for its funding for the Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program, which started earlier this year.
DARPA's multi-million grants will be going to Brown University, Columbia University, The Seeing and Hearing Foundation, the John B. Pierce Laboratory, Paradromics Inc and the University of California, Berkeley, with a DARPA official adding: "These organizations have formed teams to develop the fundamental research and component technologies required to pursue the NESD vision of a high-resolution neural interface and integrate them to create and demonstrate working systems able to support potential future therapies for sensory restoration".
The main goal behind NESD it to provide a faster two-way communication system with the brain, something that will continue to expand our understanding of the brain's biology, complexity, and function. Philip Alvelda, the founding NESD Program Manager, explains: "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".
He continued: "A million neurons represents a miniscule percentage of the 86 billion neurons in the human brain. Its deeper complexities are going to remain a mystery for some time to come. But if we're successful in delivering rich sensory signals directly to the brain, NESD will lay a broad foundation for new neurological therapies".
The Six Matrix Projects
Brown University team led by Dr. Arto Nurmikko will seek to decode neural processing of speech, focusing on the tone and vocalization aspects of auditory perception. The team's proposed interface would be composed of networks of up to 100,000 untethered, submillimeter-sized 'neurograin' sensors implanted onto or into the cerebral cortex. A separate RF unit worn or implanted as a flexible electronic patch would passively power the neurograins and serve as the hub for relaying data to and from an external command center that transcodes and processes neural and digital signals.
Columbia University team led by Dr. Ken Shepard will study vision and aims to develop a non-penetrating bioelectric interface to the visual cortex. The team envisions layering over the cortex a single, flexible complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuit containing an integrated electrode array. A relay station transceiver worn on the head would wirelessly power and communicate with the implanted device.
Fondation Voir et Entendre team led by Drs. Jose-Alain Sahel and Serge Picaud will study vision. The team aims to apply techniques from the field of optogenetics to enable communication between neurons in the visual cortex and a camera-based, high-definition artificial retina worn over the eyes, facilitated by a system of implanted electronics and micro-LED optical technology.
John B. Pierce Laboratory team led by Dr. Vincent Pieribone will study vision. The team will pursue an interface system in which modified neurons capable of bioluminescence and responsive to optogenetic stimulation communicate with an all-optical prosthesis for the visual cortex.
Paradromics, Inc., team led by Dr. Matthew Angle aims to create a high-data-rate cortical interface using large arrays of penetrating microwire electrodes for high-resolution recording and stimulation of neurons. As part of the NESD program, the team will seek to build an implantable device to support speech restoration. Paradromics' microwire array technology exploits the reliability of traditional wire electrodes, but by bonding these wires to specialized CMOS electronics the team seeks to overcome the scalability and bandwidth limitations of previous approaches using wire electrodes.
University of California, Berkeley, team led by Dr. Ehud Isacoff aims to develop a novel 'light field' holographic microscope that can detect and modulate the activity of up to a million neurons in the cerebral cortex. The team will attempt to create quantitative encoding models to predict the responses of neurons to external visual and tactile stimuli, and then apply those predictions to structure photo-stimulation patterns that elicit sensory percepts in the visual or somatosensory cortices, where the device could replace lost vision or serve as a brain-machine interface for control of an artificial limb.