TECHNOLOGY: DARPA’S Part in Obama Brain Initiative
Pentagon Brainiacs to Study the Brain
The day after President Obama announced a new research initiative to study the human brain, a caller to a Washington radio talk show asked whether he should be concerned that a Pentagon agency – DARPA – was included in the White House brain initiative.
DARPA – the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – is the Defense Department’s think-outside-the-box research arm. Since its creation in 1958 – in response to the launch of the first manmade spaced satellite, the Soviet Union’s Sputnik – DARPA has been behind some remarkable scientific developments including the Internet, Global Positioning Systems and radar-defeating stealth technology.
But what is the motivation for this government agency, known for high risk projects, to launch a high tech study of how the human brain works? The answer might surprise you. Forget “The Manchurian Candidate,” brainwashing and mind control. DARPA is interested in helping people – war injured veterans in particular – recover their memory or their ability to use their limbs again.
DARPA intends to invest about $50 million next year in trying to understand the dynamic functions of the brain and coming up with breakthrough applications. Obama wants to spend a total of $100 million on projects to help researchers find new ways to treat, cure and even prevent brain disorders.
“This kind of knowledge of brain function could inspire the design of a new generation of information processing systems; lead to insights into brain injury and recovery mechanisms; and enable new diagnostics, therapies and devices to repair traumatic brain injury,” DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar, said on DARPA’s website.
According to to the Defense and Veterans’ Brain Injury Center, between the years 2000 and 2012, 266,810 members of the U.S. Armed Services sustained traumatic brain injuries. They ranged from mild (concussion) to penetrating (open head wound/brain penetrated). Most (82.4 percent) are mild, the DVBIJ said.