The Pentagon is hoping to make telepathy a part of its arsenal in the near future.
And no, this isn’t the stuff of science fiction or some obscure PowerPoint presentation stored on a rogue contractor’s laptop – this is the latest program of the Department for Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Defense Department research office tasked with developing breakthrough technologies and innovations for the U.S. Armed Forces.
According to Defense One, DARPA is seeking to explore technologies that would link the brains and bodies of troops to a range of military applications through artificial intelligence (AI) equipped neural interfaces that allow troops to control machines with their thoughts alone.
In its quest for unquestioned battlefield dominance and the minimization of troop losses, the U.S. military has long been attracted to the potential power that AI may unlock, and has spent billions upon billions of dollars in pursuit of autonomous and semi-automated weapons systems that bring to mind dystopian science fiction films like Robocop and The Terminator.
As The New York Times wrote in 2016:
“At the core of the strategic shift envisioned by the Pentagon is a concept that officials call centaur warfighting. Named for the half-man and half-horse in Greek mythology, the strategy emphasizes human control and autonomous weapons as ways to augment and magnify the creativity and problem-solving skills of soldiers, pilots and sailors, not replace them.”
The agency has already begun recruiting teams to look into AI’s capacity to enhance “next-generation neurotechnology” in the military field in hopes that military personnel would eventually be able to effortlessly use the neural interfaces to manipulate “military systems” as effortlessly as one would control their own body.
The idea isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem at first glance – neural interfaces have already allowed people to translate thoughts into text while DARPA research has let people neurally control drone aircraft and has even given a quadriplegic man the ability to sense touch again as well as control robotic arms.
DARPA researchers face a few challenges in developing the emerging tech before the neural control of machines becomes a battlefield reality. The brain is a dynamic and still mysterious system, and the constant rewiring of brains as well as the perpetual birth and death of brain cells make it hard for a simple plug-and-play neural interface to work in a straightforward fashion.
That’s where the AI comes in – researchers hope that the interface would be able to recalibrate itself to changes on the user end through algorithms that sense the loss or addition of neurons and any other issues that interfere with communication between the brain and the application.
Another aspect of the program would see the machine feeding “artificial signals” to the brain that replicate the types of inputs that we normally receive through our nervous system – for example, giving the user the sense of burning in the absence of physical heat, or a contactless sense of touch.
On March 5, potential teams will be able to offer DARPA their formal proposals for how to make telepathy a reality for the U.S. Armed Forces, according to a solicitation posted to the Federal Business Opportunities page. Winners can receive up to $1 million if their proposals pique the interest of the Pentagon.