Mind Controlled Robots…

and the future of neuro-technology.

Dr Justin Sanchez is a neurotechnologist working in his lab in Miami, when he was offered to work at DARPA, a leading research agency working for the Department of Defence and the Pentagon in USA.

We were lucky enough to be joined by Justin at Thinking Digital, May 2017, here is his amazing talk in full.

As Justin explained, his work and interest is the development of new technology that can help people interact with technology and each other. DARPA is a place where high risks are taken and elsewhere would not dare. Along the way, DARPA decided to not just predict breakthroughs but to create some as well. According to Justin, it is not the technology itself but how people use it that changes the world.

‘What can you accomplish with your brain in the future?‘ — Dr Justin Sanchez, DARPA.

Justin highlighted some of the breakthrough technologies that we take today for granted but are all DARPA’s developments, including the Internet, Touchscreen, GPS, accelerometer, and Siri voice assistant. All of these technologies are change the way we perceive and interact with the world.

The discussion then moved into what Justin described as the future — the technology of the brain.

DARPA is working on technologies that improve the functionality of the brain by sensing brain signals in real time as well as sending signals to change the brain too. As DARPA is primarily funded by the military, a lot of neurotechnology is for those injured in combat.

One of their latest developments is called Brain Machine Interface (BMI) which uses an embedded sensor in the brain attaching to the neurones in order to read the brain signals.

Back in 2005 the first instances of this technology allowed DARPA to control movement and sensation. The company then worked at restoring active memory with a direct brain interface. DARPA then developed a new program called SUBNETS whose aim was to restore neuropsychiatric health and to help with depression.

Justin provided some examples of the impact these technologies have to people with certain injuries; a person paralysed after an automobile accident has embedded sensors in his motor and sensory cortices which enabled him to move a robotic arm with his brain, shake the president’s hand and also feel the handshake; a person with an amputated hand was embedded a sensor array in his forearm connected to a virtual 3D world, he can feel his virtual hand directly; an epileptic person with sensors in his brain and through stimulation, he is able to recall a lot more words than he was previously capable.

The brain is a magnificent organ and can potentially change the way we interact with technology so Justin asked the audience; ‘What can you accomplish with your brain in the future?‘

Of course there are numerous ethical dilemmas surrounding this area and Justin noted that part of DARPA’s goal is to have now these ethical discussions about how to use these technologies. As he argued, neurotechnology is going to happen whether we like it or not, so what he is interested is to explore what elevates us as humans.