Imagine for a minute that you survive a terrible accident, and lose function of your right arm. You receive a brain implant able to interpret your brain's neural activity and reroute commands to a robotic arm. Then one day, someone hacks that chip, sending malicious commands to the robotic arm. It's a biological invasion of privacy in which you are suddenly no longer in control.
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These days, it seems you're nobody if you're not working on a way to merge machines with the human brain. Earlier this year, both Facebook and perpetual moonshot-enthusiast Elon Musk announced plans for brain-computer interfaces that could allow us to read the thoughts of others and improve our capacity for learning. Today, the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency announced plans to spend $US65 million ($85.5 million) developing advanced neural implants that connect our brains to computers in order to treat sensory deficits such as blindness.
For decades, scientists have dreamed of how electricity might be used to change the human brain. By altering its firing patterns using currents, scientists hope to not only treat mental illness, but improve human cognition. The trouble is, so far the most successful of these enterprises have relied on implanting electrodes deep into the human brain. And brain surgery, it's safe to say, isn't something most of us take lightly.
If the brain is just a bunch of wires and circuits, it stands to reason that those components can simply be re-wired in order to create a better, smarter us. At least, that's the theory behind a new project from the military's secretive DARPA research branch announced on Wednesday, which aims to enhance human cognitive ability by activating what's known as "synaptic plasticity".