A disturbing report has surfaced detailing a program from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that gave $70 million in contracts out to two hospitals so they could develop brain implants to read, then control the emotions of people.
The contracts were awarded this week to Massachusetts General Hospital and the University of California, San Francisco under Obama’s BRAIN initiative, which is the brain-mapping program launched by the White House last year. They’re tasked with creating electrical brain implants to control seven different psychiatric conditions to start, some of which include depression, addiction, and borderline personality disorder, but researchers hope to expand their capabilities as time goes on.
According to TechnologyReview, “The project builds on expanding knowledge about how the brain works; the development of microlectronic systems that can fit in the body; and substantial evidence that thoughts and actions can be altered with well-placed electrical impulses to the brain.”
The manager of the DARPA program, Justin Sanchez, says that with the epidemic of veterans with mental illness, the military is turning to electrical devices to help control the effects from it since drugs and traditional talk therapy have limited effect.
“We want to understand the brain networks [in] neuropsychiatric illness, develop technology to measure them, and then do precision signaling to the brain,” says Sanchez. “It’s something completely different and new. These devices don’t yet exist.”
However last year the FDA approved a device that can both record and stimulate the brain. The NeuroPace is used to monitor brain activity for epileptic seizures, then send electrical pulses to prevent their onset.
Researchers say they’re making great strides in implantable electronics, especially small, implantable computers. Michel Maharbiz, a professor of electrical engineering at UC Berkeley, says that Obama’s brain initiative along with the DARPA money has created a “feeding frenzy” of researchers trying to develop new mind-controlling devices.
[Brain reader: An array of micro-electrodes printed on plastic can record from the brain’s surface. It is 6.5 millimeters on a side.]
“It’s a great time to do tech for the brain,” he says.
The research they’re doing has been dubbed “affective brain-computer interfaces,” meaning that electronic devices will be used to alter a person’s feelings and in some cases the patient would be able to directly control them.
“It’s to change what people feel and to change what they do. Those are intimately tied,” says Darin Dougherty, a psychiatrist who directs Mass General’s division of neurotherapeutics.
However such research has already gotten a bad rap in America, and in the 70s a Yale University neuroscientist Jose Delgado created implants that caused people to feel emotions, like anxiety or relaxation, using what he called “stimoceivers.” In spite of being funded by the military he was run out of the country after Congressional hearings that accused him of developing “totalitarian” mind-control devices.
For now, DARPA says that these devices will only be used to treat mental illness. However like with anything else the military develops there’s always more to the story than meets the eye.
With the government taking over our healthcare who knows what these could be used for in the future. This is one area of “medicine” that would be better left alone, wouldn’t you say?