Space & Innovation

Cyborgs Evolving in the US Military

Several new technologies being developed in the military are merging humans and machines.

The U.S. military is working to develop a new chip technology that, when implanted, will connect human brains to computers – making cyborgs.

Should the chip succeed, it could have nearly limitless possibilities. The U.S. military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) often plays a big role in the development of technologies that civilians eventually benefit from, such as GPS or the Internet.

For the US military, it could help warfighters on a number of levels, such as augmenting their senses -- hearing, sight and more.

The technology has the potential to restore sight to the blind, transform prosthetics into limbs that function seamlessly like the original one and even possibly control disease.

DARPA recently revealed the new Neural Engineering System Design, or NESD. By investing in research, DARPA hopes to create an implantable neural interface that will connect humans directly to computers at an unprecedented level, essentially turning them into cyborgs.

By definition, a cyborg is a person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.

NESD falls within the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative launched by President Obama in 2013. BRAIN is intended to encourage research that will cure or help brain disorders and brain damage.

The new chip will be about the size of sugar cube or two stacked nickels– that's about one cubic centimeter.

NESD will act as a translator between the brain and digital world. The brain neurons use one language and computers another.

The chip would be implanted in the brain. Once implanted, it will act as a neural interface. Its job is to convert electrochemical signals sent by neurons in the brain. The chip will translate these brain signals into the ones and zeros that computers understand and then translate the computer messages into signals the brain understands.

Currently, human-computer interface technology connects a machine to approximately 100 to 1,000 neurons at a time.

With this revolutionary chip, the tech will connect individual neurons to the machine. And ultimately potentially be able to so with millions of them.

By leveraging individual neuron connections, the user would enjoy far better and finer control, a reduction in noise and accelerated communication between the human and the linked computer.

The computer would feed the brain additional digital visual information that augments the user's sense of sight.

For a civilian whose sight is impaired – the computer would feed the brain the additional data, helping to restore the sight so that they can "See." For the warfighter, think feeding visual data in a higher resolution than is currently possible. Maybe even potentially augmenting them to "see" with Superman X-ray vision or seeing through the eyes of a drone.

Current human neural interfaces squash massive amounts of data through about 100 channels. Each of these channels then aggregates signals from thousands of neurons. This approach means you get an outcome that is messy and noisy.

NESD aims to create a system that solves these problems. The groundbreaking tech will allow clear and individual communication with any one of the neurons – and up to a whopping 1 million neurons - in a given region of the brain at any time.

"Today's best brain-computer interface systems are like two supercomputers trying to talk to each other using an old 300-baud modem," explained DARPA NESD Manager Phillip Alvelda, in the defense agency's news release. "Imagine what will become possible when we upgrade our tools to really open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics."

DARPA's proposal says that the chip will be part of wider advances. For some goals to be achieved, further breakthroughs will be needed in medical device manufacturing and packaging, synthetic biology, neuroscience, low-power electronics and photonics.

The agency is encouraging those with expertise and promising ideas to participate and is hosting a Proposers' Day meeting on Feb. 2 and 3. DARPA anticipates investing up to $60 million in the NESD program over four years.

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A new movement is underway that appeals to a group people unsatisfied with limits of their natural-born bodies. We're not talking plastic surgery here; we're talking bio-hacking. Bio-hackers are mainly interested in augmenting or improving their own biology or the biology of another living organism through the use of biotechnology and genetic engineering. The tools of the trade, once relegated to scientific laboratories, have come down in cost significantly, making do-it-yourself bioengineering and garage-based DNA sequencing available to anyone. Bio-hackers are fundamentally interested in altering the human condition -- usually for the better. We take a look at 10 extreme and not-so-extreme examples.

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Biohacker

Tim Cannon

, known as the “DIY Cyborg,” implanted a Circadia 1.0 computer chip, which is the size of a smartphone, under the skin of his forearm. The chip monitors his vital signs, then transmits the data in real-time to his Android device via Bluetooth. The device is capable of, say, sending him a text when he’s getting a fever and then determining which factors are causing the fever.

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Gruesome: 'Biohacker' Implants Sensor In His Arm

Dutch journalist

Rene Shoemaker

implanted a near-field communication (NFC) chip -- roughly the size of a grain of rice -- in his hand to make it possible to enter buildings, log onto his PC instead of typing a password, and pay for goods. He was also in talks with a global IT security firm to experiment ways to use the chip in his hand to install malware on unsuspecting smartphones.

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Chip Implanted In Man's Hand for a Yearlong Experiment

Artist

Anthony Antonellis

embedded a radio frequency identification (RFID) under his skin, between his thumb and index finger, to upload new GIFs onto the chip from his smartphone. The images are viewable only by cellphone; if he or others swipe a cell phone over his skin, they'll be able to get a glimpse of the digital tattoo.

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Man Embeds Chip In His Hand, Hacks Phones With It

Amal Graafstra

, known as one of the first DIY RFID implantees in the world, has chips implanted in both of his hands. As a result, he can unlock doors, turn on lights and log into his computer just by swiping a hand. Graafstra also started

Dangerous Things

, an online store, where bio-hackers can purchase supplies for embedding technology into their own lives, and by lives, we mean "skin."

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Dave Asprey

, Silicon investor and technology entrepreneur, spent $300,000 to hack his own biology. He set out to discover ways to manipulate his own biology and IQ. He used a variety of supplements and neuro-feedback training to upgrade his brain by more than 20 IQ points. He also lowered his biological age while learning to sleep more efficiently in less time. He biohacked his way toward losing weight without using exercise and invented Bulletproof Coffee, a coffee mixed with butter. Asprey is also the inventor of FATWater, a beverage infused with fat to allegedly help burn fat.

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Synthetic Creatures Could Save The Planet

Two California biohackers,

Gabriel Licina and Jeffrey Tibbetts

, created an eyedrop made primarily of Chlorin e6, derived from a deep-sea bioluminescent fish. They claim the drops help them make out people over 160 feet away in complete darkness.

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Sara Gottfried

, MD, biohacker and author of “The Hormone Cure,” claims that anyone can biohack their hormones. She reportedly hacked her growth hormone (GH), which is the hormone that helps children grow taller as they age and impacts fat breakdown, cellular growth, muscle mass and protein synthesis in adults. Since studies have shown that decreased levels of GH can increase fat and lower energy, Gottfried set out to naturally raise her GH levels with exercise, specifically high-intensity interval training. With this type of exercise, also known as burst training, she increased her GH levels 53 percent, compared to her levels pre-burst training, over a six-week period. Gottfried incorporated a combination of other strategies as well, including cutting out excess sugar in her diet, taking melatonin supplements, increasing her sleep to at least eight hours per night and reducing stress through yoga.

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Weird Engineered Organism Has 6-Letter DNA

Steve Mann

, regarded as the world’s first cyborg, invented the Eyetap Digital Glass, which he now always wears. Mann allegedly augmented his vision, ability to capture and process images and make decisions by wearing the digital glasses.

Anthony Evans

and his team created

glow-in-the-dark plants

by synthetically cross-breeding Arabidopsis and marine bioluminescent bacteria. The biohackers assembled the genes virtually using a software called genetic compiler and sent the gene specs to DNA assembling companies to build the actual DNA. The team imported the genes by using bacteria Agrobacterium tumefaciens.

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Glow-in-the-Dark Plants Go on Sale

Biohackers from two California groups -- Counter Culture Labs (Oakland) and BioCurious (Sunnyvale) -- have engineered brewer's yeast to produce casein, a milk protein. The protein is mixed with water and vegan oil to make Vegan Milk. The milk is then turned into cheese using standard cheese-making methods.

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