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US military successfully tests brain implants that allow users to control drones with their minds

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Because of the risky nature of putting implants in people’s brains, DARPA specifically searched for subjects who either already had electrodes in their brain (for example to control a prosthetic limb) or had reasons to undergo such a surgery.

The not-at-all-strange-looking EEG machine

The trials were conducted in Pittsburgh between June of 2016 and January of 2017. DARPA recently launched its Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3) program with the plan to build devices that perform the same role as the brain implant but it will look more like the EEG cap (see picture above) that a pilot can take off at the conclusion of a mission.

Although these trials were conducted using computer simulations, if the research continues they will naturally progress to using small and progressively larger drones. We’ll keep an eye out for future updates.

What are the implications of this technology?

DARPA has been doing fascinating research pertaining to controlling machines using thoughts for years. In 2015, a quadriplegic woman volunteer, Jan Scheuermann, flew a simulated F-35 stealth fighter using only brain power. We often think of technology as something external to ourselves. The more we push along this line of inquiry the more inseparable we become from the machines we produce. Humans are arguably already androids – although our smartphones are not integrated into our bodies, we spend so much time using them, relying on them and outsourcing our memory to them, they are in many ways already a part of us. If technology continues down this track, it’s not hard to imagine a future with people interfacing with all sorts of technology (vehicles, computers, cameras, messaging applications) using mind reading devices. I’ll leave discussion as to whether this is a desirable outcome for another time. At very least – it’s going to be a fascinating period of human history to witness.

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