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Biotech Science Technology

DARPA Jolts the Nervous System With Electricity, Lasers, Sound Waves, and Magnets 34

the_newsbeagle writes: DARPA is sinking some cash into the buzzy new research field of "electroceuticals," which involves stimulating nerves to control the activity of organs or bodily systems. The newest techniques have little in common with electroshock therapy, which sends a strong current broadly through the brain tissue; today's cutting-edge methods can target individual neurons, and turn them "on" and "off" with great precision. Under DARPA's new ElectRx program, seven research teams will explore different ways to modulate activity of the peripheral nervous system. Some will stimulate neurons directly with electricity, while others will take more roundabout routes involving light, acoustics, and magnetic fields.
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DARPA Jolts the Nervous System With Electricity, Lasers, Sound Waves, and Magnets

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  • by Ellis D. Tripp ( 755736 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2015 @08:23PM (#50675493) Homepage

    Maybe MK-Ultra brought into the digital age?

    • Maybe MK-Ultra brought into the digital age?

      That is exactly what this is.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      At least they haven't stooped to using comfy chairs [] yet.

    • full of everything from quack zappers to the Universal Frankenstein "machine." they can immediately learn what doesn't work, and save a tubload of cash.

    • by strstr ( 539330 )

      Maybe MK-Ultra brought into the digital age? [] []

      Modern day mkultra is already here. They never shut any of it down, it was all a shell game according to cia operative mark phillips.

      Whistleblowers exist. The modern methods use acoustic waves and electromagnetic waves to target humans. They use interferometry to scan you even through the walls of your home, and send in signals to your body and nervous system or environment. Its holographic, 3D, used for surveillance and torture. It works because the radiowaves broadcast i

    • The Internet of Things! Nah, I'm sure it's used for sensible scenarios. Just as long as folks over there listen to The King of Limbs from Radiohead.
    • To be used for new torture techniques?

      Oh, perhaps some actual legitimate medical uses.. but also new weaponry. They might even be trying for mind control over distances.

  • Well. This, um, definitely doesn't sound like just the thing to add a scientific flourish to our assorted black sites and torture dungeons. Definitely not.
    • A guy in dark shades and a black suit shines a red LED light into your eyes. It flashes and your asshole stops working.

      "No need to come with us. Just drop by our office when you're ready to tell us everything and we'll fix that right up."

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It flashes and your asshole stops working.

        Yeah, I think we've all got one employee like that. Never hire family.

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Yeah, we all know exactly what they are aiming for, unlimited numbers of suicide bombers. The most innocent person falsely confessing to the worst possible crimes, hell, why stop there get them to commit the worst possible crimes. What else, slavish loyalty for everyone but the people controlling those agencies (1% rest assured you wont be in control, just in case they will line you up against the wall and you will be happy to be there). Most sane countries would turn around a write empathic legislation th

      • I'd honestly be a lot more optimistic/sympathetic to this sort of research(psychology and psychiatry certainly need all the help they can get at actually being useful, and minimally-invasive neuron-scale intervention is a likely avenue of research, both for better data gathering and for possible treatment); if we hadn't just learned about the whole "Lets get some hack psychologists to design our torture program; and then subvert more or less all the relevant parts of the American Psychological Association,
  • come do me first motherfuckers!
  • by penguinoid ( 724646 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2015 @08:40PM (#50675599) Homepage Journal

    DARPA Jolts the Nervous System With Electricity, Lasers, Sound Waves, and Magnets

    Did they test it on sharks? Inquiring minds want to know.

  • This was on the 6 o'clock news this evening... []

    Wear Thync for minutes, feel the effects for hours. A soothing neck massage. A splash of cold water. A kiss from someone you love. These are common examples of how nerves signal the brain to change the way you feel. Thync works in the same way using signaling programs we call Vibes.

    Of course, it's not FDA-approved because it's not a medical device.....

  • by Cinnamon Beige ( 1952554 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2015 @09:48PM (#50676023)

    This isn't even particularly cutting-edge tech... I'm going to try to keep this relatively simple, so analogies are not precisely right, but close enough for this...

    Think of the brain as a computer that has to stay on, always. It's also a bit of an old system, and as a result the system's developed a bit of personality & the people who knew why some of its design is the way it is have not only moved on but are so long gone nobody's too sure how to contact them. This is also the only way to find out why certain parts of the design are weird the way they are--there might have been documentation, but it's going to be faster to just recreate it...

    Electroshock is, basically, a brute force reset of the system. We don't know (quite) why it works, but it does. It isn't really ideal, since generally you only want to restart a single service, so to speak, but trying to figure out how to manage that would require the aforementioned documentation. Certainly, the fact that some of the server clusters have names vaguely associated with what they do is pure luck--no, seriously, a lot of the brain's anatomy was named with no reference to what it actually does, and this makes memorizing neuroanatomy along with what the parts are known to do what hell.

    We have already through FDA approval a few methods (since '97, maybe earlier) that use some of this to help people, though, which are a bit less brute-force and get you the benefits without the side effects--or, in some cases, substitute for blown neurocircuitry like with Parkinson's Disease. That we can do this at all, we know from electroshock--which in a modified form is still in use, and horrifically enough is still the best treatment we've got for certain forms of depression.

    Anyway, deep-brain stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation are both pretty good for depression--and there's some promise that they'll help with seizure disorders and migraines (which might be a kind of seizure disorder anyway).

    Really, the question I have is exactly what DARPA is trying to do. Are we going for a new era where interrogation is done by improving significantly the lives of interrogation subjects? That would...actually be really effective, and the information more reliable than you'd get from torture.

    • My question is why is DARPA researching this? I can see the Internet or something like that being military technology, but 'electroceuticals?' HMM? What's that about?
      • 'Electroceuticals' is a fancy name for what I was talking about, and there's not many uses for it that DARPA could have because some of this is really hilarious--as far as I know, nobody managed quite the 'turn a neuron on and off' feat, and while certainly you might be able to do this in theory the more likely outcome is a fried neuron, and I've been around the bleeding edge here. Not only that, but you'd probably be able to snag a Nobel prize in medicine simply by developing a way to identify which neuro

        • Hm, some of it went awry between preview and submitting, so: A lot of what your brain does is an emergent function of a network of neurons together doing Something (we're not sure what) and so the result of turning a neuron on or off would be a lot of various, not obviously related things going wrong, which admittedly would tell us what that given neuron does.

          ...A lot of neuroscience could be summed up as "Let's push this button and see what happens," okay? Except we can't justify pushing it ourselves--hor

  • by Ukab the Great ( 87152 ) on Tuesday October 06, 2015 @10:10PM (#50676123)

    Just to say that you have a job stimulating organs.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Wednesday October 07, 2015 @02:36AM (#50677081) Journal

    Some recently approved cancer treatments (particularly: for inoperaable brain cancer) are basedt on a recent discovery:
      - The electric fields from changing magnetic fields interfere with chromosome segregation during mitosis.
      - The affected cells generalluy do one of two things:
            - Complete the division with missorted chromosomes - then both offspring cells commit suicide.
          - Give up on cell division - then the new diploid cell commits suicide.
    Cells not undergoing mitosis keep perking along just fine. (Perhaps this is why large-range electric fields aren't present in cells except during division: Electrical effects occur across membranes or in very close range between molecules - because the use of the fields in the chromosome segregation mechanism means any newly-evolving "feature" that involved long-range E-fields would kill the cell partway to evolving it.

    This is great for brain cancer treatment: Essentially nothing is splitting except the cancer cells. Maybe you lose some nerve stem cells and have slightly lower brain plasticity over the coming decades - but that's a heck of a lot better than dying in agony and gradually-increasing dimentia over 6 months to a year.

    But start poking at brains with this in the long term - especially brains of people under 21 or so, when the brains are still doing substantial interconnection and cell division - and you might start seeing some nasty damage.

  • DARPA Jolts the Nervous System With Electricity, Lasers, Sound Waves, and Magnets

    Is that list exhaustive? Or has "5$ wrench" been edited out?

  • Electricity [], lasers [], sound waves [], and magnets. []

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun