DARPA Research & Science
February 8, 2016

DARPA, the Pentagon’s cutting-edge science division, is developing a neural network to enhance “deep learning” on the battlefield.

Modern warfare requires more than simple brute strength. The Information Age has revealed new ways to communicate and access information, and these new rules have also affected the way wars are fought and won.

Imagery gathered by satellites and drones must make its way to units on the ground for data analyzation. While a drone can take a photograph, it cannot tell you what it’s looking at, or what to do about it, if anything. A human brain is necessary to spot a terrorist stronghold, or to recognize that a missile launcher in one photo has been moved, when compared with an older photo.

“Full exploitation of this information is a major challenge,” officials with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wrote in a 2009 brief on “deep learning.”

“Human observation and analysis of (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) assets is essential, but the training of humans is both expensive and time-consuming. Human performance also varies due to individuals’ capabilities and training, fatigue, boredom, and human attentional capacity.”

Working with a team of researchers at MIT, DARPA is hoping to take all of that human know-how and shrink it down into processing unit no bigger than your cellphone, using a microchip known as “Eyeriss.” The concept relies on “neural networks;” computerized memory networks based on the workings of the human brain.

“A further end objective of the deep learning program is to support increased growth and development of the broader machine-learning community by making publicly available many, if not all, deep learning software modules, algorithmic approaches, evaluation criteria, and datasets in several application domains for use by researchers,” DARPA says.

“A further end objective of the deep learning program is to support increased growth and development of the broader machine-learning community by making publicly available many, if not all, deep learning software modules, algorithmic approaches, evaluation criteria, and datasets in several application domains for use by researchers.”

A palm-sized neural network chip could be installed in drones or satellites, allowing these units to conduct their own learning in real time, without the need for human analysis.

Instead of a team of individuals combing through imagery looking for a single target, a drone could simply alert soldiers on the ground once the drone has identified a target.

The technology could also work in disaster zones, allowing drones to spot and identify people in need, and then communicate location and other data to aid workers.

Current deep learning technology requires a large number of servers and the energy necessary to run those computers. Data can be sent to warehouses containing the computers for analyzation, but that requires an Internet connection, which isn’t always readily available in combat situations and, when it is, is not always secure.

But Eyeriss could change the way the game of war is played. Packing more processing power into a much smaller space, the microchip could allow our handheld devices to become even smaller, and allow drones and satellites to operate without a need for massive server warehouses or hundreds of human analysts.

Intelligent Drones Plus Cyborg Soldiers

Intelligent drones are only part of the revolutionary research taking place at DARPA. Scenes from the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie Universal Soldier may become reality, as the US military is working on the development of an implantable chip which could turn soldiers into real-life cyborgs by attaching their brains to computers, Tech Times reported.

The new interface is being developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The project plans to connect the human brain and modern electronics, the source said.

A bio-compatible chip would be no larger than 1 cubic centimeter and act as a translator to convert “electrochemical language used by neurons in the brain and the ones and zeros that constitute the language of information technology,” ScienceAlert reported.

If things turn out as planned, the new interface would allow the US military to have cyborg-soldiers with enhanced battle capabilities through a digital system, the science news source said.

Although the military use would most likely be the first use for the new interface, its potential uses go far beyond the battlefield. The device could become a breakthrough advancement for neuroscience, synthetic biology and low-power electronics, just to name a few things, according to ScienceAlert.

The US military hopes that major defense companies will partner with the DARPA, so the agency could work on further research.

Human To Computer Data Dump

DARPA is also working on an implantable neural interface intended to transfer data between computers and the brain.

The interface would serve as a translator, converting the electrochemical language of brain neurons to the binary code of information technology’s ones and zeros.

“Today’s best brain-computer interface systems are like two supercomputers trying to talk to each other using an old 300-baud modem,” Phillip Alvelda, manager for DARPA’s Neural Engineering System Design, said in a release on Wednesday.

“Imagine what will become possible when we upgrade our tools to really open the channel between the human brain and modern electronics.”

DARPA said the program has the potential to create tiny devices – about the size of two stacked nickels – that could improve sight or hearing by feeding digital auditory or visual information from powerful sensors directly into the brain.

For that to happen, DARPA said that first there will have to be “breakthroughs across numerous disciplines, including neuroscience, synthetic biology, low-power electronics, photonics, medical device packaging and manufacturing, systems engineering, and clinical testing.”