April 1, 2014
The ability to link human brains to machines, create new life forms and build Star Trek-style disease detectors will be the focus of a new Defense Department office soon.
The new office, named the Biological Technology Office, orBTO, will serve as a clearinghouse for Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, programs into brain research, synthetic biology and epidemiology. The office will cover everything from brewing up tomorrow’s bioweapon detectors and connecting humans to computers to designing entirely new types of super-strong living materials that could form the basis of future devices. Here are the key areas in more detail.
Cyborgs, Neurochips and Brain-steered Drones
The human brain is often called the most complex object in the known universe, composed of 100 billion neurons and 100 trillion synapse connections. As a computer, it performs 10,000 trillion operations per second. That’s about one third as fast as the Chinese Tianhe-2 Super computer, which can perform 33,860 trillion calculations per second. But the human brain does it’s calculating with just 20 watts of power. Tianhe-2 needs 24 million watts.
In the last two decades, our understanding of the human brain has advanced tremendously through functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, magnetoenceplograhy, and high-resolution brain scans. Our ability to use brain signaling to control devices has grown at a similar pace, but getting brain material to mesh with sensors and electronics is no simple matter. A DARPA program, Revolutionizing Prosthetics, to better help veterans with amputated limbs control prosthetic legs and arms with brain signals was announced in 2009 but only very recently began to bear fruit. Last year, researchers from the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago demonstrated a cybernetic arm prosthetic that functions like something straight out of RoboCop. The BTO will oversee a variety of programs aimed at understanding both the hardware and the software of the human brain.
This article was posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2014 at 10:12 am