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Neurotechnology race to develop Brain Computer Interface (BCI) to reduce soldier’s cognitive load and controlling multiple military robots with speed of thought

Neurotechnology is an umbrella term for a range of technologies which interact directly with the brain or nervous system. This can include systems which passively scan, map or interpret brain activity, or systems which actively influence the state of the brain or nervous system.

 

Governments and the private sector alike are pouring money into research on neurotechnology, in particular the viability and applications for brain–computer interfaces (BCI) which allow users to control computers with their thoughts. While the field is still in its infancy, it is advancing at a rapid pace, creating technologies which only a few years ago would have seemed like science fiction.

 

The US’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has poured many millions of dollars of funding into neurotechnology research over multiple decades. In 2018, DARPA announced a program called ‘next-generation nonsurgical neurotechnology’, or N3, to fund six separate, highly ambitious BCI research projects. Individual branches of the US military are also developing their own neurotechnology projects. For example, the US Air Force is working on a BCI which will use neuromodulation to alter mood, reduce fatigue and enable more rapid learning.

 

China’s focus on neurotechnology is relatively recent but advancing rapidly. In 2016, the Chinese government launched the China Brain Project, a 15-year scheme intended to bring China level with and eventually ahead of the US and EU in neuroscience research. In April 2021, Tianjin University and state-owned giant China Electronics Corporation announced they are collaborating on the second generation of ‘Brain Talker’, a chip designed specifically for use in BCIs. Experts have described China’s efforts in this area as an example of civil–military fusion, in which technological advances serve multiple agendas.

 

Australia is also funding research into neurotechnology for military applications. For example, at the Army Robotics Expo in Brisbane in August 2021, researchers from the University of Technology Sydney demonstrated a vehicle which could be remotely controlled via brainwaves. The project was developed with $1.2 million in funding through the Department of Defence.

 

Beyond governments, the private-sector neurotechnology industry is also picking up steam; 2021 is already a record year for funding of BCI projects. Estimates put the industry at US$10.7 billion globally in 2020, and it’s expected to reach US$26 billion by 2026.

 

Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI) Applications

Every action our body performs begins with a thought, and with every thought comes an electrical signal. The electrical signals can be received by the brain-computer interface, consisting of an electroencephalograph (EEG) or an implanted electrode, which can then be translated, and then sent to the performing hardware to produce the desired action. BCI is an alternative system built on artificial mechanisms and acts as a bridge between the brain and external devices. The aim of BCI is to convey human intentions to external devices by directly extracting brain signals. Eventually, the brain and computers would be highly integrated.

 

The brain-computer interface (BCI) allows people to use their thoughts to control not only themselves, but the world around them. BCI enables a bidirectional communication between a brain and an external device, bidirectional generally includes direct neural readout and feedback and direct neural write-in.

 

Brain-computer interfaces are being applied in neuroprosthetics, through which paralyzed persons are able to control robotic arms, neurogaming where one can control keyboard, mouse etc using their thoughts and play games, neuroanalysis (psychology), and in defense to control robotic soldiers or fly planes with thoughts.

 

BCIs may replace lost functions, such as speaking or moving. They may restore the ability to control the body, such as by stimulating nerves or muscles that move the hand. BCIs have also been used to improve functions, such as training users to improve the remaining function of damaged pathways required to grasp. BCIs can also enhance function, like warning a sleepy driver to wake up. Finally, a BCI might supplement the body’s natural outputs, such as through a third hand.

 

BCI technology by providing direct communication between the brain and external devices will enable new ways of human interacting with their devices. In recent years, advances in machine learning (ML) have enabled the development of more advanced BCI spellers, devices that allow people to communicate with computers using their thoughts. In the next few years, we might be able to control our PowerPoint presentation or Excel files using only our brains. Some prototypes can translate brain activity into text or instructions for a computer, and in theory, as the technology improves, we’ll see people using BCIs to write memos or reports at work.

 

Perhaps more exciting is a brain-machine interface’s ability to connect brains to the cloud and all its resources. In theory, a person’s own “native” intelligence could then be augmented on demand by accessing cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI).

 

Human intelligence could be greatly multiplied by this. Consider for a moment if two or more people wirelessly connected their implants. This would facilitate a high-bandwidth exchange of images and ideas from one to the other.

Neuroimaging-based approaches in the brain–computer interface - ScienceDirect

But new use cases are being identified all the time. For example, BCIs can now be used as a neurofeedback training tool to improve cognitive performance. For example, your BCI could detect that your attention level is too low compared with the importance of a given meeting or task and trigger an alert. BCIs can detect the mental state of a worker and adjust nearby devices accordingly (smart home utilization). for example, It could  adapt the lighting of your office based on how stressed you are, or prevent you from using your company car if drowsiness is detected.

 

A Toronto-based startup called “Muse” has developed a sensing headband that gives real-time information about what’s going on in your brain. The startup already has a “Corporate Wellness Program” to “help your employees lower stress, increase resilience, and improve their engagement.” Other headbands on the market also use proprietary sensors to detect brain signals and leverage machine learning algorithms to provide insights into the engagement levels of users/workers. They can track whether someone is focused or distracted.

 

Researchers are also experimenting with “passthoughts” as an alternative to passwords. Soon, we might log into our various devices and platforms using our thoughts. As described in this IEEE Spectrum article, “When we perform mental tasks like picturing a shape or singing a song in our heads, our brains generate unique neuronal electrical signals. A billion people could mentally hum the same song and no two brain-wave patterns generated by that task would be alike. An electroencephalograph (EEG) would read those brain waves using noninvasive electrodes that record the signals. The unique patterns can be used like a password or biometric identification.”

 

Race to develop  brain-computer interface (BCI) chips

Neuralink

Elon Musk’s newest venture, Neuralink’s vision is to insert thousands of tiny threads into the neurons of your brain. The other ends of the threads are attached to chips, embedded under the skin on your head and wirelessly connected to a detachable Bluetooth ‘pod’ behind your ear, enabling you to control a phone or another device with your thoughts.  The company has already successfully tested the technology in monkeys and aims to start testing it in humans.

 

Neuralink’s brain-machine interface could potentially help people with brain and spinal cord injuries who have lost the ability to move or sense, as Musk highlighted at the company’s livestreamed launch event. Even more ambitiously, Musk said his long-term goal is “to achieve a sort of symbiosis with [artificial intelligence].” He wants to build what he calls a digital superintelligence layer to complement the parts of the brain responsible for thinking and planning (the cerebral cortex) and for emotions and memory (the limbic system). In fact, he said, “you already have this layer.” It is your phone and your laptop. But you are limited by how quickly you can process what you see, and how quickly you can type a response. The answer, Musk says, is to increase the band-width of the brain-machine interface.

 

Neuralink is just one of the organizations developing cutting-edge neurotechnology, although others like teams at Carnegie Mellon, Rice University, and Battelle, are not proposing drilling through people’s skulls and inserting microscopic threads into their brains, opting instead for electromagnetics, light beams, and acoustic waves.

 

Neuralink, Elon Musk’s computer to brain interface firm, has released a video in March 2021 it claims shows a monkey playing the video game Pong with its mind. Its brain signals were sent wirelessly via an implanted device. The hope is that the interface could eventually allow people with neurological conditions to control phones or computers remotely.

 

One expert said the fact no wires were used represented “significant progress”, but more data was needed. The macaque monkey, named Pager, was first taught to play the video game with a joystick, and was rewarded with a fruit smoothie. During this process, the Neuralink device recorded the information about which neurons were firing to control which movements.

 

South Korea is conducting similar research at the Brain Signal Processing Lab of Korea University. Researchers there are using magnetic resonance imaging, commonly known as an MRI, and electroencephalography with a goal of constructing either a brain-computer interface or a brain-machine interface. The lab wants to use data analysis and machine learning to diagnose psychiatric conditions and neurological diseases, including mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, sleep disorders, epilepsy and depression.

 

China advancing rapidly

Chinese research teams are striving to build self-developed chips for brain-computer interface (BCI), a critical bioscience sector that could collect and analyze human brains’ electronic signals, paving way for a breakthrough in this next-generation technology in industry, aerospace and medicine, whose markets are valued at trillions of dollars.

 

The People’s Republic of China reported in May 2019 that its scientists had achieved a breakthrough with a brain-computer interface (BCI) chip, according to state news agency Xinhua. Called Brain Talker, the technology debuted at the World Intelligence Congress in northern China. Ming Dong, director of the Academy of Medical Engineering and Translational Medicine in Tianjin University, said the chip can identify minor neuron information sent by the brain wave from the cerebral cortex, efficiently decode the information and greatly quicken the communication speed between the brain and machine.

 

“Brain Talker makes BCI technology more promising for civil use since the chip is more portable, wearable and simpler,” Ming added. Brain Talker was co-developed by Tianjin University and China Electronics Corporation with fully independent intellectual property rights. Cheng Longlong, a data scientist from China Electronics Corporation, said scientists would endeavor to enhance the performance of the chip for wider use in the fields of medical treatment, education, home life and gaming in the future.

 

A neuro-engineering team at Tianjin University is working on the research and development of the second-generation “BrainTalker” chip, which uses less power and offers higher system-on-chip integration.

Wearing a brain electrode cap that is covered with sensitive electrodes, with the chip inserted, a person can type by using his mind. Characters appear onscreen by interpreting his brain signals without the need for physical typing.

 

Xu Minpeng, assistant director of the Tianjin Brain Science Center who leads the project, told the Global Times that using the chip, the research team is able to capture “good-quality” brain intentions from electroencephalogram signals that could satisfy application demands.

“We’re upgrading the technology, but it has some way to go before it can be commercialized,” Xu said. The first generation of “BrainTalker” was released in 2019. The research team from Tianjin University is one example of how China is accelerating its efforts to break “bottlenecks” in BCI technology, in particular in front-end collecting chips and high-performance processors, where core technologies are heavily dependent on imports from the US and European countries.

 

Brain-controlled system Neurochat begins to be batch-produced in Russia

Russian-developed system Neurochat, which allows the power of thought to control devices and go online and surf the world web, began to be batch-produced this year, the project’s director, Natalya Galkina, said at the presentation of the system in Samara in April 2019. Neurochat works on the basis of what she described as the “brain-computer interface” technology. The patient can choose an icon or symbol on the screen using the power of thought, control external devices and access the Internet. The device will let patients with cerebral atherosclerosis, chronic cerebral ischemia, senile asthenia and other speech and movement impairments communicate with other people.

 

“This year, Neurochat began to be batch-produced. The price of the kit is 120,000 rubles ($1,900), but the developer and the Ministry of Health promise to help patients receive a compensation,” Galkina said

 

Russian Scientists Create Mind-Reading ‘Neuro-Balalaika’

Researchers from the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University’s Institute of Living Systems in Kaliningrad have completed development of a new neural interface device called the Balalaika, capable of simultaneously recording a variety of electrophysiological signals.

 

The device, designed and built from scratch in Russia, is simultaneously able to conduct electroencephalographic monitoring (recording electrical activity of the brain), electroencephalographic monitoring (measuring electrical activity of muscle fibers), electrooculographic monitoring (measurement of bioelectric potential during eye movement), photoplethysmographic monitoring (measuring blood flow), and measurement of skin temperature.

 

Using the Balalaika, users can play computer games hands-free, operate a wheelchair or even an exoskeleton. If a disabled person does not feel well enough to go to a clinic for testing and monitoring, he or she can do so from home, sending the results remotely to their doctor.

 

Researchers are now busy at work on an ‘avatar’, a program capable of matching human and robot activity via remote control. “Figuratively speaking, when a person raises his hand, a robot standing in the distance also raises his hand,” institute director Maxim Patrushev explained.

 

The multi-measurement features of the Balalaika’s instrumentation have allowed researchers to confirm that the simultaneous use of electroencephalographic, electrooculographic and photoplethysmographic signals significantly improves accuracy in the interpretation of planned physical activity on the basis of brain signals. It is assumed that the use of multiple signals helps to bring the probability of error-free remote control of external devices using brain power comes close to 100%, making it a major technical breakthrough for robotics and the development of technology to assist people with motor system diseases.

Brain Computer Interface for Military

BCI in the context of the anticipated future of warfare, including increases in human-machine teaming. The analysis begins from
the premise that human-machine teaming will play a major role in future combat and that BCI may provide a competitive advantage in future warfare.

 

BCI technologies are likely to have practical use on a future battlefield, particularly as the pace and volume of human-machine interaction intensify. BCI capabilities could enhance the speed of communication, improve common situational awareness, and allow operators to control multiple technological platforms simultaneously. Laboratory studies indicate that BCIs may be able to enhance both the speed and accuracy of human decisionmaking.

 

In a future BCI team, AI could theoretically transfer initial data analysis from a plane or drone directly to the relevant centers of an operator’s brain to further reduce cognitive load. In combat, BCI could thus accelerate an operator’s observe, orient, decide, act (OODA) loop, through new ways of presenting information and bypassing physical senses.  Thus, DARPA cites the potential ability of military personnel to “facilitate multitasking at the speed of thought” and “interface with smart decision aids” as two rationales for its investment in noninvasive or minutely invasive BCI technologies.

 

Additionally, BCI could yield potential advantages for human operators seeking to manage future robotics machines, or groups of machines, in combat. As former DARPA program manager Al Emondi has suggested, “As we approach a future in which increasingly autonomous systems will play a greater role in military operations, neural interface technology can help warfighters build a more intuitive interaction with these systems.” As a practical matter, the ability to achieve hands-free control of a vehicle, robot, or a drone swarm though BCI could allow
operators to use their hands for other tasks, such as carrying a traditional weapon. BCI could also potentially allow operators to do more with a swarm than manual operation would permit. One 2009 North Atlantic Treaty Organization study concluded that the goal of having a single human operator control multiple vehicles was “at best, very ambitious, and, at worst, improbable to achieve.” Current work on brain-swarm interface posits that brain-computer technologies may be able to improve this challenge.

 

One area where BCI technology could potentially prove useful for today’s military personnel would be synthetic telepathy among human operators. In 2009, DARPA’s “Silent Talk” program awarded grants to research institutions to “allow user-to-user communication on the battlefield without the use of vocalized speech through analysis of neural signals,” an application that could greatly facilitate covert communication.  An external analysis highlights the potential use of BCI technology to develop shared consciousness within and across units, improve collective awareness of combat challenges, and provide combatants with insights into perspectives and internal deliberations of multiple operators.

 

Direct access to the human brain could also help commanders improve the understanding of the cognitive and psychological states of their forces. As early as 2008, the Air Force investigated battlefield command-and-control systems that used EEG and eye movements to “assess the operator’s actual cognitive state” in an effort to “avoid cognitive bottlenecks before they occur” and eventually to “anticipate future mission state and operator functional state ahead of time.”  In its vision statement, the ARL’s Cognition and Neuroergonomics Collaborative
Technology Alliance (CaN CTA) makes the case for developing the capacity to continually monitor operator neurocognitive behavior, including depth, distribution, and shifting of human attention, appraisal of information, the emotional context of actions, and the impact of physiological state—fatigue, stress, arousal—on cognitive and motor performance. This type of function could plausibly identify and facilitate operations for extremely fatigued convoy drivers, or perhaps for gunners or tankers operating in complex environments for whom mistakes could prove deadly.

 

At a more complex level, a technology that could provide insights into the emotional state of a soldier might provide red flags as to whether
and when the soldier might “break” psychologically, when a soldier might have psychotic tendencies, or perhaps when a soldier is shooting to miss. One study on the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify falsehoods suggests that the ability to detect whether a subject is concealing information may be of particular interest to counterterrorism and counterinsurgency missions.

 

DoD has also explored the application of BCI technologies to improve cognitive performance during or in preparation for combat. Potential military applications offered by enhanced cognitive abilities of service members, through electrical or chemical stimulation, might include improved memory of battle assignments or storage of large amounts of information by a fighter pilot. Caffeine has been used as a cognitive stimulant by the U.S. military for over a century. More recently, researchers from the Air Force Research Laboratory have highlighted
cognitive challenges associated with high-level multitasking environments as an impetus for applied research on transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in the military context.

 

Two U.S. companies are even researching how neural interface technology can improve driver safety. Trimble Inc., based in California, and Massachusetts-based Neurable Inc. have entered a partnership to explore the use of brain-computer interfaces that will track brain signals and eye movements to improve training efficiency and driver safety.

 

DoD has also invested in efforts to accelerate military training through the use of BCI. As DARPA’s Targeted Neuroplasticity Training program description observes, service members often need specialized skills demanding perceptual acuity, rapid and accurate judgment, and effective planning and execution of complex actions. The existing training for these can be time consuming and require high aptitude.
Thus, DoD perceives utility in pursuing technologies that could reduce the time, investment, and innate aptitude required for the acquisition of these specialized skills.

 

Beyond cognitive enhancement, BCI could also be used to reduce pain or to regulate such other emotions as fear. As one analyst with military medical experience has observed, BCI capabilities that can physically manipulate the central nervous system and disrupt pain could offer “practical applications as an electronic anesthetic.” DARPA’s Electrical Prescriptions (ElectRx) program seeks to support military operational readiness by developing nonpharmacological treatments for pain, general inflammation, posttraumatic stress, severe anxiety, and other challenges through the stimulation of the peripheral nervous system.  Commanding officers have long grappled with how best to manage fear on the battlefield as warfighters make individual or collective decisions to fight or not fight when fearing death.106 Application of BCI to improve management could plausibly be of use, though there are  also arguably positive products of strong emotion in combat, including an increase in adrenaline that improves physical capability.

 

In the future, BCI that improves human sensors—eyes that could see in different spectra or ears that could hear sounds outside the usual human range—might improve situational awareness in infantry operations. As former DARPA program manager and former Army infantry officer Geoffrey Ling has observed, “If I gave you a third eye, and the eye can see in the ultraviolet, that would be incorporated into everything that you do. . . . If you can see at night, you’re better than the person who can’t see at night.

 

 

Dual Use Nature , Ethics and regulation

The potential benefits from neurotechnology are immense, but they are matched by enormous ethical, legal, social, economic and security concerns.

 

BCI are also vulnerable to privacy and security threats. Companies who opt to use BCI technology to collect private information about employee in the workplace. Even when used with the best of intentions, companies could risk becoming overly dependent on using brain data to evaluate, monitor, and train employees, and there are risks associated with that.

 

BCI are also vulnerable to hacking. Hackers can access a BCI headband and create/send manipulated EEG data. A hacker could also intercept and alter all data transmitted by your BCI. It’s possible that a hacker could steal your “passthoughts” user credentials and interact with your devices (laptop, car, etc.). They they could also be used by criminals to manipulate thoughts or even cause death, or used to control soldier’s brains and their actions. According to some Analysts Human Brain is going to become sixth war fighting domain.

 

In 2020 researchers conducted a meta-review of the academic literature on the ethics of BCIs. They identified eight specific ethical concerns: user safety; humanity and personhood; autonomy; stigma and normality; privacy and security (including cybersecurity and the risk of hacking); research ethics and informed consent; responsibility and regulation; and justice. Of these, autonomy and responsibility and regulation received the most attention in the existing literature. In addition, the researchers argued that the potential psychological impacts of BCIs on users needs to be considered.

 

The implications of these technologies are profound. When fully realised, they have the potential to reshape the most fundamental and most personal element of human experience: our thoughts. The dual-use nature and immensely consequential nature of neurotechnology means it’s crucial for us to be thinking early and often about the way we’re constructing it, and the type of systems we do—and don’t—want to build. One of the ways is through regulation.

 

In September 2021, Chile became the first state in the world to pass legislation regulating the use of neurotechnology. The ‘neuro-rights’ law aims to protect mental privacy, free will of thought and personal identity.

 

While Chile is the first and so far only country to legislate on neurotechnology, groups such as the OECD are looking seriously at the issue. In 2019 the OECD Council adopted a recommendation on responsible innovation in neurotechnology which aimed to set the first international standard to drive ethical research and development of neurotechnology. Next month, the OECD and the Council of Europe will hold a roundtable of international experts to discuss whether neurotechnologies need new kinds of human rights.

 

In Australia, the interdisciplinary Australian Neuroethics Network has called for a nationally coordinated approach to the ethics of neurotechnology and has proposed a neuroethics framework.

 

References and Resources also include:

https://hbr.org/2020/10/what-brain-computer-interfaces-could-mean-for-the-future-of-work

https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR2900/RR2996/RAND_RR2996.pdf

https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-big-promises-and-potentially-bigger-consequences-of-neurotechnology/

 

 

 

 

Cite This Article

 
International Defense Security & Technology (October 6, 2022) Neurotechnology race to develop Brain Computer Interface (BCI) to reduce soldier’s cognitive load and controlling multiple military robots with speed of thought. Retrieved from https://idstch.com/geopolitics/neurotechnology-race-to-develop-brain-computer-interface-bci-to-reduce-soldiers-cognitive-load-and-controlling-multiple-military-robots-with-speed-of-thought/.
"Neurotechnology race to develop Brain Computer Interface (BCI) to reduce soldier’s cognitive load and controlling multiple military robots with speed of thought." International Defense Security & Technology - October 6, 2022, https://idstch.com/geopolitics/neurotechnology-race-to-develop-brain-computer-interface-bci-to-reduce-soldiers-cognitive-load-and-controlling-multiple-military-robots-with-speed-of-thought/
International Defense Security & Technology May 15, 2022 Neurotechnology race to develop Brain Computer Interface (BCI) to reduce soldier’s cognitive load and controlling multiple military robots with speed of thought., viewed October 6, 2022,<https://idstch.com/geopolitics/neurotechnology-race-to-develop-brain-computer-interface-bci-to-reduce-soldiers-cognitive-load-and-controlling-multiple-military-robots-with-speed-of-thought/>
International Defense Security & Technology - Neurotechnology race to develop Brain Computer Interface (BCI) to reduce soldier’s cognitive load and controlling multiple military robots with speed of thought. [Internet]. [Accessed October 6, 2022]. Available from: https://idstch.com/geopolitics/neurotechnology-race-to-develop-brain-computer-interface-bci-to-reduce-soldiers-cognitive-load-and-controlling-multiple-military-robots-with-speed-of-thought/
"Neurotechnology race to develop Brain Computer Interface (BCI) to reduce soldier’s cognitive load and controlling multiple military robots with speed of thought." International Defense Security & Technology - Accessed October 6, 2022. https://idstch.com/geopolitics/neurotechnology-race-to-develop-brain-computer-interface-bci-to-reduce-soldiers-cognitive-load-and-controlling-multiple-military-robots-with-speed-of-thought/
"Neurotechnology race to develop Brain Computer Interface (BCI) to reduce soldier’s cognitive load and controlling multiple military robots with speed of thought." International Defense Security & Technology [Online]. Available: https://idstch.com/geopolitics/neurotechnology-race-to-develop-brain-computer-interface-bci-to-reduce-soldiers-cognitive-load-and-controlling-multiple-military-robots-with-speed-of-thought/. [Accessed: October 6, 2022]

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