Arati Prabhakar — director of the Pentagons advanced research arm DARPA — has revealed a breakthrough achievement in machine mind control: Jan Scheuermann, a 55-year-old quadriplegic woman with electrodes implanted in her brain, has been able to fly an F-35 fighter jet using just her mind. This is her:
Scheuermann — who is quadriplegic because of an hereditary genetic disease — was recruited by DARPA for its robotics programs. Scientists and doctors implanted electrodes in the left motor cortex of her brain in 2012 to allow her to control a robotic arm, which she did successfully. But she’s not using the robotic arms to control the joystick in the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II simulator used for the tests. She is controlling the plane with “nothing but her thoughts,” according to Prabhakar, pure neural signaling:
Instead of thinking about controlling a joystick, which is what our ace pilots do when they’re driving this thing, Jan’s thinking about controlling the aeroplane directly. For someone who’s never flown — she’s not a pilot in real life — she’s flying that simulator directly from her neural signaling.
The F-35 simulator in action
Prabhakar, who made the announcement at the first Future of War conference, celebrated last week in Washington, expressed some concern about the future applications of this technology, which was initially created to enable soldiers and people affected by motor problems, extending their bodies using robotic parts:
In doing this work, we’ve also opened this door. We can now see a future where we can free the brain from the limitations of the human body and I think we can all imagine amazing good things and amazing potential bad things that are on the other side of that door.
I can’t see the “bad potential” of this overweighting the good potential. Sure, we can use machine mind control to remotely control killing robot soldiers on the field, but we can already do that just like we control drones.
What I can see on this is one more step closer to enable people with motor problems to overcome whatever limitations they have. If DARPA has really achieved what Prabhakar is talking about, this is an amazing breakthrough for the seamless integration of robotics and humans — and a giant leap towards the singularity.