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May 05, 2017 10:42 AM EDT

US Defense's Next Big Project Will Make Human Even Smarter, DARPA To Led Project That Will Hack Human Brain


DARPA, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is reportedly working on another weird project for this year. The US Defense agency is said to be exploring ways on how to hack the human brain to get people even smarter.

Last March 2016, DARPA, the U.S. military's main defense research, and development arm, announced their Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT) program, which aimed to explore various safe neurostimulation methods for activating synaptic plasticity. The works are said to focus mainly on brain's ability to alter the connecting points between neurons, a known requirement for learning.

DARPA, the US government agency responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the US military, is well-known for funding numerous emerging technologies that could have a profound impact on US military. It's an agency built on one single purpose- to ensure America's supremacy in the 21st-century digital battlefield and to avoid further technological surprise during a confrontation with its closest rivals (China and Russia).

The US Defense agency has been working for years on some of the fast-emerging technologies today that may influence US military in projecting global power. These include some funded works on artificial intelligence, aerospace, IT, computer networking, nuclear technology, and more. And today, the agency is about to explore and hack the human brain.

As mentioned on the DARPA's official website, the ideal end benefit for this kind of breakthrough would be downloadable learning or a great way to learn quickly. As part of the agency's TNT program, DARPA will be funding eight projects at seven leading universities and institutions. The DARPA-funded institutions are the following:

  • The research team from the University of Johns Hopkins, which will be led by Dr. Xiaoqin Wang, will be focusing on the effects of plasticity on language learning.
  • The research team from Arizona State University, which will be led by Dr. Stephen Helms Tillery, will be focusing on the sensorimotor and visual systems of the human brain.
  • The research team from the University of Maryland, which under the direction of Dr. Henk Haarmann, will be studying the impact of VNS on foreign language learning.
  • The research team of University of Texas (Dallas), which will be led by Dr. Mike Kilgard, will be working on identifying optimal stimulation parameters.
  • The research team from University of Wisconsin team, under the supervision of Dr. Justin Williams, will be using state-of-the-art optical imaging, electrophysiology, and neurochemical sensing techniques.
  • The research team from Wright State University, which will be led by Dr. Timothy Broderick, will be focusing on identifying epigenetic markers of neuroplasticity and indicators of an individual's response to VNS.
  • The second team from the University of Florida, which will be led by Dr. Karim Oweiss, will be focusing on the use of an all-optical approach combining fluorescent imaging and optogenetics.
  • Finally, the last and one of two efforts DARPA are currently funding at the University of Florida, a research team led by Dr. Kevin Otto will be working on identifying which neural pathways in the brain VNS activates.

All the agency-funded projects are part of a coordinated effort that will first study the fundamental science and then conclude with human trials. The first portion of the TNT program will be focusing on deciphering the neural mechanisms that allow nerve stimulation to influence brain plasticity. The second portion of the TNT program will be focusing on applying the technology in a variety of training exercises.

In addition to the research and development works, DARPA's foreign language specialists, intelligence analysts, and others trained personnel will work with TNT Program's researchers to help refine the TNT platform to better suit military training needs. And more importantly, to facilitate transition into real-world applications.

According to Doug Weber, the TNT Program Manager, the agency's primary goal here is to further enhance the most effective existing training methods so the men and women of the US military can operate at their full potential. The program manager also claimed that Downloadable Learning may be one of the most effective ways today to achieve next-level humanity.

For more about this latest DARPA-funded projects, check out the DARPA's official website

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