A DARPA researcher is creating brain implants to restore lost memories
Scientists with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are building brain implants that may offer the key to restoring memories for the millions of Americans who have sustained a traumatic brain injury or suffer from memory loss.
"We're opening the door to the possibility," said Dr. Justin Sanchez, the director of the agency's biological technologies office. "We're trying to understand what does it mean to interface with the nervous system? Do we have the technologies to understand what the brain is telling us?"As it turns out, we do.
At DARPA's annual "Demo Day" at the Pentagon, Sanchez detailed some of the work his office had achieved in just a couple of years, specifically with its Restoring Active Memory program, or RAM.
"We can identify the signatures of the brain that tell us when you're going to make a good memory recall or when you're going to stumble on your memory recall," Sanchez said. "And we can actually deliver direct stimulation to the brain in order to facilitate memory formation and recall."
Put simply, initial findings from RAM tests on human subjects show that scientists can capture and understand signals from your brain, and they've learned that a little electrical jolt can sometimes help with memory formation.
"If you had a traumatic brain injury and lost the ability to form and recall memories, if you had a medical device that could help you with that it can be transformative."
Still, DARPA has plenty to learn. The agency is a long way off from a science fiction-like implant for healthy humans to have knowledge inserted into their brain - think "The Matrix" - or a world in which humans use just their thoughts to control things in the home.Though these wild ideas are certainly possible within our lifetimes, as Sanchez has said in the past. But right now, the agency is working out the "fundamentals" - seeing if human subjects can work with simple memories like facts or lists of words.
"It's a really interesting future ahead of us," he said.