Artificial intelligence, atomic GPS, robotic armor, mind downloaded to hard disk, super fast vaccines, „brain from the Pentagon“ projects.
The 675 North Randolph Street is a modern seven-storey building with large windows that reflect the green of the front lawn. A building like many others, in the business district of Arlington, Virginia, the city on the south bank of the Potomac that faces the capital of the United States, where the headquarters of the Pentagon, Goddess and others are located (in addition to the famous military cemetery) key agencies for the defense of the greatest planetary power.
At the 675 reception they are very kind, showing a touch of irony, but they remain inflexible. Because here are the offices of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, DARPA, one of the most secret and important agencies in contemporary US history.
The vast majority do not even know it exists, and even in the variegated world of conspiracy theorists, few know its activities. And yet it is in its super-secret laboratories – even if on the internet it turns some legend about too much – that for over half a century projects and programs have been developed that have revolutionized the scientific-military industry (giving the US an unbridgeable strategic advantage) but that they also had an incredible impact on our daily life.
Just think of Arpanet (the progenitor of the Network), the internet or the first virtual reality programs. Ideas, research, programs and development of inventions that seem to come from a science fiction book and that thanks to investments of billions of dollars have often become reality.
Lethal weapons for a war of the future that increasingly resembles a videogame: powerful microprocessors of the latest generation, artificial intelligence, aquatic drones and microscopic devices to be implanted in the human body to create an interface between nerves and vital organs.
In August, three Carnegie Mellon University students began research with a state-of-the-art 3D printer and a small, thin slice of mouse brain. The brain fragment was kept alive continuously with a solution of salt, glucose and amino acids. His neurons continued to „shoot“, ie to be active, allowing the experimenters to collect data. The intent was to understand if they were able to detect and manipulate the signals of the human brain without having to touch the delicate brain tissue directly.
Their goal was to develop accurate and sensitive brain-computer interfaces, comfortable enough to be worn and removed like a helmet, without any surgical intervention. Human skulls are less than a centimeter thick: the exact thickness varies from person to person and from place to place. They act as a blur filter that diffuses waveforms, be they electric currents, light or sound. Neurons in the brain can be as small as a few thousandths of a millimeter in diameter and generate weak electrical impulses as little as a twentieth of a volt.
The students‘ experiment was aimed at gathering a database with which to compare the results of a new technique that Pulkit Grover, the main researcher of the team, hopes to develop: „Nothing like it is now possible and it is really difficult to do“.
A project funded with 104 million by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. While the Grover team is manipulating electrical and ultrasound signals, other teams use optical or magnetic techniques. If one of these approaches is successful, the results will be something that will forever transform the relationship we have with technology.
A mind reading device that requires no surgery would open up a world of possibilities. Brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs, have been used to help people with quadriplegia regain limited control over their bodies and to allow veterans who have lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan to control artificial ones.