DARPA On Your Mind–9/1/2004

DARPA On Your Mind

DARPA On Your Mind

Cerebrum

“One might well wonder what “things” the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has in mind to do “at great distances,” and what else might thereby be made possible. The epigraph that opens this article comes at the end of a discussion, headed Enhanced Human Performance, in a Defense Department paper in which the authors declare, “The goal is to exploit the life sciences to make the individual warfighter stronger, more alert, more endurant, and better able to heal.” DARPA’s Continuous Assisted Performance (CAP) program, the document continues, “is investigating ways to prevent fatigue and enable soldiers to stay awake, alert, and effective for up to seven days straight without suffering any deleterious mental or physical effects and without using any of the current generation of stimulants.” Experiments are cited in which a monkey has been trained to manipulate a computer mouse or a telerobotic arm “simply by thinking about it.”

These remarkable objectives would be easier to dismiss if the agency could not boast such an impressive track record. Its overall mission is to bring discoveries from fundamental research to bear on the mission requirements of today’s warfighters, to accelerate the pace of applicable discoveries.
Among DARPA’s accomplishments in its continuous effort to “fill the gap” between basic research and military use are the Saturn rocket, ground radar, the Stealth Fighter, and the Predator missile. DARPA-developed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have been used in Afghanistan and elsewhere. And then, of course, there is the one innovation that might prove to be the most socially trans-forming of them all: the Internet.”
by Jonathan D. Moreno
Applied science may once again play a
decisive role in changing the face of armed
conflict, and the rest of human affairs, by
shifting the battlefield to our very brains.
The national-security establishment—and
particularly the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—
supports research at the intersection of neuro-
science and national security that could u
ltimately enable authorities to do things like
enhance (or muddle, or erase) memory,
monitor crowds for individuals whose brain
patterns correlate with aggressive behaviors,
or control weapons from afar merely with
thoughts. What are the dangers of such infor-
mation falling into “the wrong hands,” and
are there any “right hands” for this kind
of knowledge? Is any extension of human
abilities justified by the need for government
to protect its society?
The long-term Defense implications of finding
ways to turn
thoughts into acts
, if it [sic] can
be developed, are enormous: Imagine U.S.
warfighters that only need use the power of
their thoughts to do things at great distances
(emphasis in original).
—Strategic Plan, Defense Advanced Research
A few years ago on a bucolic drive
 from Charlottesville, Virginia, to
Washington, DC, my cell phone

rang. Like any good citizen, I pulled over

before I took the call.
“Dr. Moreno?” a female voice said.
“Yes?” I said.
“I need to talk to you about a matter—
actually, it’s…a national security matter.”
“Uh, yes?”
“I read your book. I have been the
victim of a government experiment, and
I need to talk to you.”
As I have done many times, I tried
to assure the caller that I am not a physician
or a lawyer, only a bioethics professor who
wrote a book about human experiments and
national security. I expressed my sympathy
but told her I was unable to give her relief.
Nonetheless, like others who have called or
e-mailed me in the past six years, she was
sure I could somehow help her. Mercifully,
I lost the cell signal and the call.
I believe that people who think they
have been victimized by government mind–
control experiments are misguided, yet I am
also impressed that there are thousands of
such persons. I have worked for two presiden-
tial advisory commissions and have heard

many of these people provide perfectly lucid

testimony about scenarios I find fantastic.
Some of them are courageous and resolute in
the struggle they perceive as having been foist-
ed on them; others are distraught and terrified
of what horrors the next day may bring.
JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE PARANOID
DOESN’T MEAN SOMEONE ISN’T
FOLLOWING YOU
Despite the vast distance between their
worldviews and mine, I have long been
impressed at the irreducible kernel of truth
behind these people’s bizarre obsessions: The
scientific community, in fact, has had a great
deal of interest in “mind control,” particu-
larly those scientists in the United States and
elsewhere who have been supported by the
national security establishment. The history
of this activity has been rich and rather odd,
an offbeat slice of our cultural history. But
the future is far more suggestive; it adds fuel
to the fire that inflames those fearful minds
most of us find hard to understand.
One might well wonder what “things”
the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency (DARPA) has in mind to do “at
great distances,” and what else might thereby
be made possible. The epigraph that opens
this article comes at the end of a discussion,
headed Enhanced Human Performance, in
a Defense Department paper in which the
authors declare, “The goal is to exploit the
life sciences to make the individual warfighter
stronger, more alert, more endurant, and
better able to heal.” DARPA’s Continuous
Assisted Performance (CAP) program, the
document continues, “is investigating ways
to prevent fatigue and enable soldiers to stay
awake, alert, and effective for up to seven days
straight without suffering any deleterious
mental or physical effects and without using
any of the current generation of stimulants.”
Experiments are cited in which a monkey
has been trained to manipulate a computer
mouse or a telerobotic arm “simply by
thinking about it.”
These remarkable objectives would
be easier to dismiss if the agency could not
boast such an impressive track record. Its
overall mission is to bring discoveries from
fundamental research to bear on the mission
requirements of today’s warfighters, to
accelerate the pace of applicable discoveries.
Among DARPA’s accomplishments in its
continuous effort to “fill the gap” between
basic research and military use are the Saturn
rocket, ground radar, the Stealth Fighter,
and the Predator missile. DARPA-developed
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have been used
in Afghanistan and elsewhere. And then,
of course, there is the one innovation that
might prove to be the most socially trans-
forming of them all: the Internet.
These mechanical and electronic inno-
vations required extraordinary resources,
foresight, intelligence, and patience. Unlike
other areas of government, decades of
development are acceptable in the DARPA
framework. Today the agency is turning its
considerable ingenuity and generous funding
($3 billion in fiscal year 2005) to the poten-
tialities of biology, including, as we have
seen, the enhancing of human performance.
The onrush of discoveries about the
brain and the concomitant technological
advancements suggest at least a few areas
of interest. Two of these—improving
intellectual endurance and achieving mental
control at a distance—are mentioned in
DARPA’s Strategic Plan. Others, such as
memory enhancement and distant brain
scanning (by means of a device that could
detect telltale blood flow in certain neural
systems from a distance), also suggest inter-
esting possibilities at the intersection of neu-
roscience and national security. In addition,
they present formidable ethical questions
that our society has barely articulated, let
alone carefully addressed. Are there places
that science just should not go when it
comes to what Woody Allen once called
his second favorite organ?
WAKE UP!
Longtime Minneapolis residents tell stories
about the woozy, skinny young men seen
about town during World War II. They were
conscientious objectors involved in sleep-
and nutrition-deprivation experiments.
Problems of endurance and alertness are
endemic to soldiers on the march. Infantry
troops often subsist for a year at a time on
four hours of sleep a night and modest
rations. Any advantage that can be achieved
in sheer concentration and physical stamina
has long been prized, and biological innova-
tions have been applied to this goal. As early
as 1883, Bavarian soldiers on maneuvers
were given cocaine to see if the drug would
help overcome fatigue.
Paradoxically, some of the most infa-
mous
examples of drug experiments by the
military have had as their purpose the induc-
ing of confusion and panic, rather than clarity
and cogency. Notoriously, American officials
suspected the North Koreans and “Red”
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Chinese of using hallucinogens to “brainwash”
POWs during the Korean conflict. During
the 1950s, interest in determining the psy-
chological effects of psychotropic drugs was
rampant, especially in the CIA and the U.S.
Army. One of the CIA’s activities under the
code name MKULTRA was the dosing of
unsuspecting individuals with LSD, including
army anthrax expert Frank Olson, who fell
to his death from a New York City hotel in
1953 under circumstances that have led some
to conclude that the drugging was part of
an assassination. That same year, a New York
City tennis pro named Harold Blaur died
following a mescaline overdose in an invol-
untary experiment at New York State’s
Psychiatric
Institute. Blaur, who had been
admitted to the institute following a diagnosis
of clinical depression, was an unwitting
subject under a secret contract between the
state and the Army Chemical Corps. In
the 1960s, thousands of soldiers were given
LSD in tests to which their consent was
questionnable. Many at least seem to have
known they were going to be exposed to
an hallucinogen, but not where or how.
These incidents, it should be noted,
came in the wake of the trial of Nazi doctors
in Nuremberg, Germany, after World War II,
and the famous code written by the judges.
The first line of the Nuremberg Code is,
“The voluntary consent of the human subject
is absolutely essential.” Less than two months
after Harold Blaur’s death, the secretary of
defense issued a top-secret memorandum
that made the code the Pentagon’s policy
for atomic, biological, and chemical warfare
experiments. Yet the U.S. government funded
a number of both covert and unclassified
possible. But would individuals then be
overloaded with memories, storing vast
quantities of detail that would normally be
ignored because we have evolved to filter
out or delete useless bits of information?
Such an innovation could literally be
maddening, let alone counterevolutionary,
unless the effects were short-lived. And who
would want to volunteer for the first trial?
The artificial-intelligence approach
would be more straightforward: engineer
a direct connection between your brain and
your Palm Pilot. Information could be
not only uploaded to the brain but also
downloaded to your Palm. DARPA’s now-
cancelled LifeLog program was a step away:
The idea was to create a database with every
communication an individual has written,
all pictures taken of them, and every bit
of information about them. Then use the
Global Positioning System to track all their
movements and sensors to record what they
say, see, and hear and add that to the data-
base. The unfolding events in a potential
terrorist’s life could be reconstructed in all
their dimensionality. But so could yours or
mine, and a civil-liberties outcry after DARPA
disclosed the project led to its demise.
Learning about the mechanism of
remembering also involves learning about
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the mechanism of forgetting. In the film,
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
,
ex-lovers undergo a high-tech brain erasing
procedure to forget about the pain of
breakup. In a literally touching moment in
Star Trek
, Mr. Spock engages in a Vulcan
mind-meld with Captain Kirk, without his
consent, to help him forget a tragic love
affair. Less romantically, undercover agents
would benefit from the ability to lose their
memories upon capture. Neuropsychologists
have already found that deliberate memory
loss among victims of parental abuse is both
a demonstrable mechanism (they are not
“lying” when they say they don’t recall)
and a very effective method of defense.
But mucking around with memory
raises significant questions about personal
identity. As far back as David Hume in
the eighteenth century, philosophers have
noted that our idea of ourselves is intimately
bound up with our remembered experiences,
including previous ideas about ourselves that
have entered the stream of consciousness.
Anyone who believes that there are certain
boundaries that should not be crossed must
be concerned about the modification of the
ability to remember and to forget.
BENT SPOONS
Uri Geller gained fame decades ago for
his ostensible ability to bend spoons using
only mental energy. Then magicians did
the same thing. Although Geller still has
his advocates, agencies like DARPA seem
reluctant to throw in their strategic lot with
mentalists. Instead, in its effort to help
warfighters “do things at great distances,”
DARPA initiated its brain-machine Interfaces
The idea was to create a database
with every communication an
individual has written, all pictures
taken of them, and every bit of
information about them.
The Dana Forum on Brain Science
Program, which has shown that a monkey
can control a robot arm using only neural
impulses. In a 2002 report to Congress,
DARPA insisted that these are not merely
the impulses that normally control the
monkey’s arm, but the very thoughts about
arm movement themselves, transmitted to
a robot limb in another room. Similarly, in
recent work at Duke University, scientists
have shown that monkeys can be trained
to engage in complicated movements, with
neural processes alone, by means of devices
that involve both reaching for and grasping
an object. At the 2003 meeting of the
Society for Neuroscience, researchers from
Duke noted that they had proved the same
principle in humans undergoing neuro-
surgery (who could cooperate because brain
surgery anesthesia is local, not general) and
that they could safely identify the cells that
initiate actions. Ultimately it should be
possible for paralyzed people to control
limbs through computer implants.
Once this can be done, those same
impulses, digitized by a computer, can be
sent as encrypted messages over the Internet
to do things at any distance the electrons
will travel, including maneuvering aircraft,
inspecting a target, releasing weapons, and
so forth, at very close range. A soldier could
stay at a safe distance while controlling a
drone; an operator far from the battlefield
could do the same thing. Clearly we’ve
come a long way from arguing whether
Uri Geller actually bent that spoon.
General Patton is said to have lost his
command after World War II when he told
a journalist he regretted a world in which
distant aircraft could determine the course
of combat. But in fact the opportunity
provided by ground warfare to engage in
heroic acts at close range has never carried
much weight in comparison with tactical
advantage. Is any kind of tactical advantage
acceptable, or at any point are some advan-
tages so profound as to be unfair? (Probably
not.) Defenders of these development efforts
will surely observe that they are likely to
alleviate one of the most vexing problems
of modern war, the unintended effects of
lethal weapons on unarmed civilians.
BAD VIBES
Since the 1970s, reports have circulated
about Soviet and Chinese interest in “psy-
chotronic” weapons intended to influence
psychological and physiological processes at
a distance, perhaps through electromagnetic
radiation. Those who suspect innovative
national security agencies like DARPA of
malicious intentions believe it will continue
to probe all the possibilities presented by
neuroscientific advances, including mind
control. As evidence, human rights advo-
cates claim that references to mind control
or psychotronic weapons, including
summaries of information about Russian
and Chinese efforts, remain classified.
Those who suspect innovative nation-
al security agencies like DARPA of
malicious intentions believe it will
continue to probe all the possibilities
presented by neuroscientific
advances, including mind control.
According to U.S. experts, although
psychotronic warfare has been seized upon
by those who believe a security agency is
controlling or disrupting their brains, its goal
as information warfare would be to attack
communications systems, thus causing a
catastrophic infrastructure failure. Jamming
transmissions by Saddam Hussein’s radar
installations in the run-up to the Iraq war
was an elementary example of such tactics.
Similar principles might be applied to the
mental energy of the warfighters themselves,
perhaps by “pulse-wave weapons,” which
would disrupt motor signals from the
central cortex. Once again, though, reports
about Russian possession of such weapons
are highly disputed—as are claims that such
technical capabilities exist.
Perhaps more within reach are devel-
opments in functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI) technology. The advent of
fMRI has been a boon to neuroscientists
interested in correlating blood flow with just
about every imaginable human experience.
If the basic mechanism could be improved
to detect blood flow at some distance from
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the target brain—something like the MRI
systems within which surgery can be
conducted—it would be possible to install
surveillance systems in sensitive public spaces
like airports. Individuals with increased
blood flow in neural systems associated with
aggressive behaviors could be singled out
and stopped for questioning. Whether this
approach would provide a security benefit
or not might be beside the point for author-
ities anxious to appear to be doing all they
can to protect the public, as air travelers
have noticed in the past few years.
ETHICS ON DARPA’S MIND?
In the largest sense, what seems to be at
hazard are our most basic ideas about person-
al
identity and liberty. What sorts of ground
rules can be set for science and for states?
Are there regions of forbidden knowledge?
Or, because the prospects appear too attrac-
tive for governments to ignore (and too
important to concede to their adversaries),
how should democratic societies
prepare
themselves to manage these immensely pow-
erful
capabilities? We seem to be left with
the ironic conclusion that the more tools the
neurosciences present for national security
purposes, the less secure each of us will be.
Discussions about ethics require the
oxygen of transparency, precisely the item
in short supply in national security matters.
Yet the failure to engage in some prospective
analysis of moral issues during the course of
technological innovations can have vexing
consequences for future generations. Aware
of the experience of the atomic physicists,
for example, geneticists resolved early on
to open themselves up to public scrutiny.
If the basic mechanism could be
improved to detect blood flow at
some distance from the target
brain—something like the MRI
systems within which surgery can
be conducted—it would be possible
to install surveillance systems in
sensitive public spaces like airports.
The Dana Forum on Brain Science
The U.S. government’s main funding
program for genetics research has from the
beginning set aside substantial funds to
sponsor projects on ethics. The vigorous
public discourse on ethics in genetics is
partly owed to that program.
Two complementary options are
available to stimulate a similar public debate
about the pursuit of these novel technologies
that may be applied to national security
objectives. One option is to create a funded
research program in which proposals can
be submitted for examining the kinds of
problems raised in this paper. Even if the
detailed mechanisms cannot be shared, the
issues at stake are clear enough and should
be debated in scholarly journals and on
op-ed pages. A second option is to create
an “ethical, legal and social implications”
advisory panel within agencies like DARPA,
composed of individuals with a range of
expertise and who have appropriate security
clearances but are not employees of the
federal government.
Whatever the means used for harness-
ing the knowledge that is forthcoming
to acceptable public ends, our society will
need to understand and debate the security
options made possible by the new neuro-
science. If only a small fraction of these
war fighting innovations bear fruit, applied
science will once again have played a
decisive role in changing the face of armed
conflict. In this case, science will have shifted
the battlefield to our very brains.
References
1.
Chase, A.
Harvard and the Unabomber.
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003.
2. Shachtman, N. “
Wired
News,” Wired.com.
February 17, 2004