DARPA Develops an Experimental Brain Implant Which Can Improve Your Memory

Sunday, 08 April 2018 - 6:27PM
Technology
Neuroscience
Military Tech
Sunday, 08 April 2018 - 6:27PM
DARPA Develops an Experimental Brain Implant Which Can Improve Your Memory
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Unless you're Elon Musk, you may be uncomfortable with adding a "brain implant" into your head (unless it teaches you kung fu). And with good reason, because of both the philosophical "Am I still human?" questions and because one bug could be enough to short out your entire brain. 

But DARPA, the U.S. government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and frequently its weird science department, is developing a form of "prosthetic memory" that you insert via neural implant. And it does seem to up your memorization skills: the neural implant can learn to recognize when you recall certain memories, and then provide an electrical boost whenever you need to recall something again in the future.

According to a new study funded by DARPA and published in the Journal of Neural Engineering, stimulating a subject's hippocampus - the part of the brain which creates new memories - by using this prosthetic memory seemed to improve both their short-term and long-term memories by a larger margin than the researchers expected.



The participants in the study were 15 patients being treated for epilepsy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, who already had electrodes implanted into their brains from other treatments. The participants played a simply memory game where they recalled images they'd previously seen while researchers mapped out their neuron activity in areas of the brain like the hippocampus.

Then, in later games, the researchers began to stimulate certain parts of the participants' brains to see if they had an easier time recalling the images. Each participant received different brain stimulations based on a personalized "memory code" of their mental activity. 

The results were impressive. In short memory games, where they had to recall an image after two minutes, the neural stimulation improved their performance by 37 percent, while performance in the longer memory games of 75 minutes improved by 35 percent. The "prosthetic memory" that came from the brain electrode stimulation did improve their memories, at least on that short-term scale.

This was a very early study, and DARPA's next step would be testing the neural stimulation technique on a wider scale with more participants who don't already have existing implants (and would therefore need some for the experiment). If these future studies similarly improve memory functions, there's a whole lot of potential uses the prosthetic memory could have, if society is ready to go the cyberpunk route and start turning themselves into cyborgs.

There's nothing here that could teach you kung fu like those implants from The Matrix, but at the very least, DARPA is working on that too.
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