Content Gazette - October 2019 - 1

biodata, thus enabling better understanding and newer discoveries. Although we
have been able to record brain waves for
a long time, the recent advances in machine learning and data-analytics are making it possible to interpret these waves
more thoroughly, read their "messages"
more clearly, and correlate them more directly with actions and behaviors.
Driven by these advances, we are
already witnessing important strides toward exploring the complex wilderness
of the human brain and mind. This past
May, DARPA, the funding agency that
is responsible for the advancement of
research programs for the U.S. Department of Defense, launched an ambitious
multimillion-dollar program in support of mind-control technologies. The
program's objective is to develop solutions that enable the control of defense
systems and swarms of drones through
a soldier's thoughts and without requiring surgery [4]. Six research teams have
been selected to receive funding under
the so-called N3 Program, which stands
for the Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology Program. The main motivation of the N3 program is to reduce
the latency (or delay) that exists between
the moment a soldier decides on an action plan and the time it takes for his/
her limbs and muscles to act by pressing
control buttons or typing commands on
a keyboard.
Some will question the devious reason behind the need for launching weapons at faster speeds, even to the point of
spending millions of dollars on trying
to reduce the action time by milliseconds. Others will argue in favor of such
investments to enhance one's defense
capabilities. Regardless of the argument
that you are most comfortable with, my
intention is to focus purely on the enabling science; namely, on the ability to
use one's thoughts to control machines.
It is not clear how successful these efforts will be. However, time and again,
we have witnessed how similar ambitious projects in the past, driven initially
by purely military considerations, have
ended up leading to superb technological advances for society at large.
The most notable modern example is
the Internet, which started as a military
6

project in the mid 1960s called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects
Agency Network). It was funded by the
U.S. Department of Defense. The purpose of the project was to develop technology that would enable a network of
computers to communicate with each
other and to store information in a decentralized manner. A network of this
type would be more robust in the face
of catastrophic events, such as a nuclear
event during the years of the Cold War.
We have come a long way since then,
with the Internet today defining our
modern times. While researching the
history of ARPANET, I found the following passage very amusing on the
Wikipedia page; it is extracted from
[5, p. 9]. The reference is a 1982 manual
for users at the MIT AI Laboratory instructing them on the use of their computer network:
"It is considered illegal to use the
ARPANET for anything which is not
in direct support of Government business ... personal messages to other
ARPANET subscribers (for example, to
arrange a get-together or check and say
a friendly hello) are generally not considered harmful ... Sending electronic
mail over the ARPANET for commercial profit or political purposes is both
anti-social and illegal."
Contrast the instruction in the last
sentence of this paragraph with the current state of affairs! Using the precursor
of the Internet for commercial purposes
was considered both "antisocial and illegal." At the time of this writing, Amazon.com, one of the largest commercial
enterprises ever, has just commemorated 25 years of existence, having been
launched on July 5th, 1994. This is only
one example of the vast online world we
live in today, besides email and messaging tools that we cannot live without! The
practice of exchanging "friendly hellos"
was considered "nonharmful" back
then. Today, the practice has evolved
into flooding our inboxes with messages
for the most trivial reasons, apart of
course from the relentless spamming. I
love the short emails that say "Hi, can
we have a brief chat by phone?" I have
used them myself. Why not just pick up
the phone? We are becoming mentally
IEEE SIGNAL PROCESSING MAGAZINE

www.signalprocessingsociety.org

wired to using an electronic medium,
perhaps because it is easier nowadays to
reach people by email than by phone in
an ever-interconnected and busy world.
Given our hectic schedules, it is often a
necessity to schedule beforehand a time
to chat by phone, and we use emails to
break through that barrier! The online
world is changing our social behavior.
Similar effects are likely to occur, and
perhaps on a much more pronounced
scale, once we start tinkering with our
brains and minds! Be prepared.
Similar to what happened with ARPANET, whether successful or not, the
recent DARPA efforts may similarly lead
to important technological advances of
great societal and clinical value. Advances in neurotechnology are likely to
have an impact on computing, the consumer industry, and on the pharmaceutical industry. This is because a better
control and understanding of the brain
functions and its chemistry can suggest
more effective drug systems, promote
new forms of consumer neurotechnology, and even lead to new computing
modalities. For example, the brain is
recognized as a more efficient machine,
consuming far less power (about 20W),
than modern supercomputers (which
consume close to 5-10MW). There are
several ongoing efforts, including by
companies like Intel and IBM, on neuromorphic computing and the design of
neuro-chips that imitate the functionality of brain cells. These chips are also
embedded with learning abilities [6].
Imagine the devices inside your machines becoming more powerful and
wiser as they age based on experience!
Advances in neurotechnology will
further lead to hybrid brain-machine interfaces to augment human capabilities
and to assist with disabilities. There already exist prototypes of headsets that
allow users to control electronic devices
such as their TVs using thought commands [7]. Facebook is also apparently
working on a brain-machine interface
that would read people's thoughts and
allow them to navigate and interact
with an augmented reality environment
in that manner alone, without the need
for keyboards, remote controls, or gestures [8]. It is estimated that Facebook

| September 2019 |

[1]

OCTOBER 2019


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Content Gazette - October 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Content Gazette - October 2019

Content Gazette - October 2019 - Cover1
Content Gazette - October 2019 - Cover2
Content Gazette - October 2019 - 1
Content Gazette - October 2019 - 2
Content Gazette - October 2019 - 3
Content Gazette - October 2019 - 4
Content Gazette - October 2019 - 5
Content Gazette - October 2019 - 6
Content Gazette - October 2019 - 7
Content Gazette - October 2019 - 8
Content Gazette - October 2019 - 9
Content Gazette - October 2019 - 10
Content Gazette - October 2019 - 11
Content Gazette - October 2019 - 12
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Content Gazette - October 2019 - 17
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Content Gazette - October 2019 - 21
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Content Gazette - October 2019 - 38
Content Gazette - October 2019 - Cover3
Content Gazette - October 2019 - Cover4
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