WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — U.S. military researchers say they are developing a brain implant that would restore the memory of wounded soldiers and those who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency revealed this past week at a conference in Washington, D.C., that they are working to build these memory stimulators for the next four years.
“If you have been injured in the line of duty and you can’t remember your family, we want to be able to restore those kinds of functions,” DARPA program manager Justin Sanchez said, according to AFP. “We think that we can develop neuroprosthetic devices that can directly interface with the hippocampus, and can restore the first type of memories we are looking at, the declarative memories.”
The conference was put together by the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas.
The DARPA project is part of the $100 million BRAIN Initiative President Barack Obama launched last month.
“The Initiative promises to accelerate the invention of new technologies that will help researchers produce real-time pictures of complex neural circuits and visualize the rapid-fire interactions of cells that occur at the speed of thought. Such cutting-edge capabilities, applied to both simple and complex systems, will open new doors to understanding how brain function is linked to human behavior and learning, and the mechanisms of brain disease,” the White House said in a statement at the time.
Despite the potential of restoring memories of wounded soldiers and Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s, medical ethicists are raising alarms.
“When you fool around with the brain you are fooling around with personal identity,” Arthur Caplan, medical ethicist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, told AFP. “The cost of altering the mind is you risk losing sense of self, and that is a new kind of risk we never faced.”
Caplan worries that these brain implants could erase a soldier’s memory, make them potentially more violent and also interfere with a war crime investigation.
“If I could take a pill or put a helmet on and have some memories wiped out, maybe I don’t have to live with the consequences of what I do,” Caplan told AFP.
Last month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was given a demonstration of five technologies DARPA has been working on to help wounded soldiers, including prosthetics.
“This is transformational,” Hagel told the American Forces Press Service. “We’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Sanchez stated that a formal announcement about the brain implants will take place in the next few months.
“We have got some of the most talented scientists in our country that will be working on this project. So stay tuned,” Sanchez said, according to AFP. “Lots of exciting things will be coming in the very near future.”