21 April 2014

Cyborgs are coming

DARPA is closely engaged in the development of cyborgs

Mikhail Vannakh, ComputerraThe omniscient Merriam-Webster dictionary kindly tells us that the word cyborg

(a creature whose body contains electronic or mechanical devices that give the owner additional abilities), formed from cybernetic + organization, was first used in English in 1960. Soon it penetrated to us. But there are no real cyborgs anywhere yet, despite the rapid development of information technology. And now an organization that has repeatedly proved its effectiveness in the development of breakthrough technologies, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has taken up the elimination of this flaw.

And for this purpose, a seemingly bureaucratic structure is being created within the agency, called the Office of Biological Technologies (DARPA Launches Biological Technologies Office). Its tasks will be the development of technologies for connecting the brain to computers, the creation of artificial biological materials and the development of detectors of promising biological weapons.

May biologists and doctors forgive the author, whose territory he invades once again, but it seems very likely that the common feature of all those studies that the Management of Biological Technologies will undertake to organize, coordinate and pay for will be the application to biomedical research and development of methods characteristic of engineering disciplines in general and information technology in particular. That is, not to expect favors from nature – which is futile after everything we have done with her – but to take them by force.

And the very first object of the application of forces and controls of biological technologies will be the human brain. This is understandable. Man is not the strongest, fastest, and most vigilant being on the planet. But he is the master of the planet due to the fact that he is endowed with a fairly powerful brain, developed for interaction in primate packs and honed in the mutual wars of these very descendants of the monkey… And it is clear why the first thing that military engineers undertook to improve is the brain!

The task is not easy: the device itself is too difficult. A hundred billion neurons, a hundred trillion synaptic connections… However, technology has already overcome this milestone. The Tianhe-2 supercomputer from China performs 33,860 trillion operations per second. Only here the brain develops a third of the power, consuming 20 watts, a little more than an LED light bulb, and the creation of Chinese engineers needs 24 megawatts…

In recent decades, thanks to functional magnetic resonance imaging, magnetoencephalography and high-resolution brain scanning, a person has become much better aware of how the brain functions. But the task of creating a full-fledged human-machine interface is still beyond the capabilities of the technology. The maximum that humanity has achieved here is the use of biological currents to control prostheses.

Such studies, announced in 2009 by the DARPA Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, only a couple of years ago allowed employees of the Chicago Rehabilitation Institute to demonstrate a biocurrent-controlled prosthesis. These studies will henceforth be supervised by the Department of Biological Technologies. The ultimate goal is to create prostheses controlled by signals from the brain; the fusion of nerves and electrodes currently required is not pleasant.

But, as DARPA director Arati Prabhakar says, helping war invalids is only one of the tasks (Inside the Military's New Office for Cyborgs). The complex of studies serves to create brain-simulating devices that can be used in a variety of fields. According to the Cortical Processor program, for which $2.3 million will be allocated in the 2015 budget year, it is planned to create a software model of processes in the cerebral cortex. The neocortex attracts the American military because it successfully solves the problems of pattern recognition in real time and with negligible energy consumption.

And this is very important. After all, bioelectronic control with the help of signals taken directly from the brain will allow much better control of both manned and unmanned vehicles (tau is removed – a delay in the passage of signals through the nerves and working out their muscles that actuate the steering wheel or handle). Well, about the same as in 2010, the control of a Roomba vacuum cleaner was demonstrated, for which signals were taken from the visual cortex of the brain.

In fact, the article Prospects for Brain-Computer Interfacing says about a robot similar to a vacuum cleaner – VM.

Practical Chinese from Zhejiang University in 2012 used an electroencephalogram to control a UAV. However, not a combat one, but a four-screw children's toy. But the difference here is purely in scale… And that's what military engineers are interested in. However, it is impossible to remove the signal without getting into the brain with sufficient resolution. But it is possible, using hardware and software models of the brain, to better interpret those signals that are removed from the neocortex. And then such models will be able to cope with tasks without a living brain.

This drone is controlled by EEG.

The next area of work of the Department of Biological Technologies will be the construction of biomaterials with predetermined properties. Such work is carried out under the 1,000 Molecules program, which is part of DARPA's Living Foundries initiative. These are large-scale research works aimed at the rapid and scalable production of biologically based materials with specified properties.

Within the framework of this program, biotechnology should turn into an engineering discipline that allows obtaining materials with the required strength, structural, electrical and optical properties. It should provide the creators of new generations of weapons systems with unprecedented opportunities to flexibly combine cheaper, durable and durable materials than those currently available. An example of such work will be the creation of the first artificial chromosome, recently assembled from 273,871 fragments of DNA molecules.

And finally, the tasks of the Department of Biological Technologies will include the development of a new generation of biological weapons detectors. Their goal is to diagnose infections quickly and specifically, directly on the battlefield. Well, the next generation of devices will have to learn how to synthesize specific vaccines against dangerous pathogens – and providing protection not in a few weeks, as immunity develops, but almost instantly.

It would seem quite a peaceful thing. Protection from some kind of flu pandemic, which, according to the US military press, can take 150 million lives. But the matter is much more serious. We are talking about the return to use of biological weapons, cheap and deadly. And it is necessary to return it precisely to ensure the safety of your own. When were the states formed? Yes, when full-fledged citizens, hoplites and legionnaires who have the opportunity to buy protective weapons and armor at their own expense stood out.

The sword was not much different from a kitchen cleaver, but the helmet, armor, greaves and shield cost a lot of money. So it is here: bacteria and viruses turned into weapons do well, albeit in different ways, reproduce themselves. The task is that they kill those who need to, and do not harm those who do not need to. And this is the task that the field synthesizer of the vaccine is designed to solve. Working also individually. The vaccine will be able to act only on the fighter on whose DNA the synthesizer is configured. It will be useless to others at best…

And the creation of such devices is the final goal of the program, called Autonomous Diagnostics to Enable Prevention and Therapeutics, abbreviated as ADEPT. So far, a modest ten million dollars have been allocated for it, but this is just the beginning. Money will not be spared here: imagine entire regions sown with this or that deadly infection, or even a bouquet of such – "wonderful" in that they reproduce themselves. And imagine that there are fighters in these territories whose equipment provides reliable vaccination.

Then the "right" settlers or those from the autochthons who will be decided to leave will receive such protection.… Yes, no money will be spared for such a war – moreover, conducted in deep secrecy – as soon as the first results are outlined ... And, perhaps, some of the technologies will find application in the civilian sphere!

(At the beginning of the article, the author apologized for the fact that he, a technician, again got into biomedical issues. What is written at the end looks like the fruit of a violent fantasy and is not supported by links. And in the article about the ADEPT program on the DARPA website about instant vaccines, and even suitable only for individual use, not a word is said – VM.)

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru21.04.2014

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