(Matthew Humphries) Black box recorders are a common feature in aircraft. They sit there keeping track of everything that is happening. Then, if something goes wrong the information can be reviewed to piece together exactly what happened and form a view of the events that may otherwise have been lost.
Now the Pentagon is attempting to develop a similar system for use in humans, and in particular soldiers who have suffered brain damage. If they could be fitted with a black box in their brain, then it may be possible to trigger memories surrounding a traumatic event and overcome memory loss quickly and easily.
As you’d expect, DARPA has been tasked with looking into this area through its Defense Sciences department. We still know very little about how our memory works, but progress is being made through brain stimulation devices such as that developed by Medtronic for helping people with Parkinson’s disease.
The solution DARPA and the Pentagon wants developed takes the form of an implantable device that can both record and stimulate brain activity. Anyone submitting a proposal for such a device needs to detail every step of how it would work, including the surgical procedure to attach it, power requirements once fitted, and how much space it would take up and how much it would weigh.
It’s common to see memory loss in someone suffering brain damage, but they can also forget their personal details and skills, such as remembering their own name, who their family is, and even how to drive. As well as stimulating the brain to recover recent memories, it is hoped the implant would be able to recall common information and therefore help them remember who they are.
Creating such an implant will take a long time to perfect simply because we still know so little about how the human brain works. But such research is important well beyond use in soldiers, and could become a key “upgrade” for humans in the coming decades.
As to what such an implant would look like, the images included here show an existing brain implant developed by the University of Utah. It’s main purpose is to deliver signals from an external source directly into the brain for interpretation. Obviously DARPA’s implant will be much more complex, but will ultimately end up taking a similar form.