Darpa N3 Project: Will We Pilot Drones Through The Brain?

Discover the potential of non-invasive neurotechnology for national security and medical applications.

Video of the day November 17th 2019


There are a lot of advances in technology that are a bit hard to think about when you’re told them. So join us as we explore DARPA and the N3 Project.

What is the N3 Project?

With a name like the “N3” project, you’re likely thinking of some big kind of weapon, or some sci-fi project that will drastically change the human race. Well, it’s kind of both, but here is the official description from DARPA themselves:

” The Next-Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology (N3) program aims to develop high-performance, bi-directional brain-machine interfaces for able-bodied service members. Such interfaces would be enabling technology for diverse national security applications such as control of unmanned aerial vehicles and active cyber defense systems or teaming with computer systems to successfully multitask during complex military missions.”

Now before you say something like, “OH MY GOSH! THEY’RE MAKING THE MATRIX!” Calm down. First and foremost, the “nonsurgical” part of the phrase is key here, because unlike The Matrix movies where the humans had to be implanted with devices to all them to be “plugged in”, the intent with this project will be to do the whole procedure without the need for surgery at all.

” Whereas the most effective, state-of-the-art neural interfaces require surgery to implant electrodes into the brain, N3 technology would not require surgery and would be man-portable, thus making the technology accessible to a far wider population of potential users. Noninvasive neurotechnologies such as the electroencephalogram and transcranial direct current stimulation already exist, but do not offer the precision, signal resolution, and portability required for advanced applications by people working in real-world settings.”

So as you can see, they’re REALLY going deep into the sci-fi world here, but not The Matrix. It’s actually more akin to Cerebro from the X-Men, where Charles Xavier was able to use a special room and a helmet in order to cast his mind everywhere he needed to be. So now imagine that, but with you being able to control a singular object or fight a cyber attack. That’s pretty impressive.

The Goals of the N3 Project

As we outlined, the N3 Project has the goal of putting man and machine together in a non-evasive way to help guide things like UAVs and other drones, as well as to help with cyber security and attacks. But is that all the project will aim for? No, likely not. Though by their own admission this is the immediate goal of the project:

“If N3 is successful, we’ll end up with wearable neural interface systems that can communicate with the brain from a range of just a few millimeters, moving neurotechnology beyond the clinic and into practical use for national security,” Emondi said. “Just as service members put on protective and tactical gear in preparation for a mission, in the future they might put on a headset containing a neural interface, use the technology however it’s needed, then put the tool aside when the mission is complete.”

Still, let’s look beyond the projects immediate goals of weapons control and cyber defense and see what it could be put to use on in other ways.

For example, imagine being able to guide a satellite, being able to use its cameras and notice things that even a computer couldn’t because of your human brain and its natural insights and instincts. That’s actually part of the reason that DARPA and the military want this technology to control drones, because the creativity of a human mind can work beyond a computer in some cases.

And that’s still only working with the very base of what this project can do. How about we do something more…medical?

Nanotech Surgeries

Humanity right now in its pursuit of better medicine is at a bit of a standstill. There are many diseases right now that cannot be cured or even remedied slightly, and with health care as it is right now, not everyone can afford the treatment that they need in order to get well. So now imagine that with the N3 Project, we’re able to do more via a new kind of technology that is in the works right now: Nano-Technology.

You’ve all seen the sci-fi shows I’m sure. The ones where tiny robots are born and bred to do things that humanity can’t do on a certain level. Including enter the human body and repair things on their own. The problem is that the technology needed to do that with things that small doesn’t technically exist just yet. However, with the N3 Project, we may be able to do a sideways path to success. because instead of using programming or an AI in order to guide the nanotec machines to where they need to go, we can instead guide them with our minds. 

The interface would allow for fast reactions, creative workarounds, and via the use of cameras, unprecedented access to various parts of the human body. This singular use could potentially help many lives, especially if we’re able to use the nanotec machines to do things like kill bad cells, heal wounds by coming together like a bandage, and more.

It won’t be the answer to everything, but it could be the answer for some things, which is more than what we have right now in many ways. One step at a time, right?

Before we show you the other ways the N3 Project can help people, be sure to like the video and subscribe to the channel! That way you get to see all of our weekly videos!

N3 Concept Artsource: DARPA

The Cybernetics Question

If you’ve watched virtually any major sci-fi experience on TV or in movies, then you know about cybernetics and how in the “future” we’re supposed to be able to replace our body parts with fully functional robotic limbs that can do things far beyond our current capabilities. The reason that we can’t do that right now is a question of brain function. Not that our brains don’t work, but rather, that we have to figure out how to use our brains signals to get the robotic limbs to do what we want. Many tests are going on right now to try and do that, but so far…no serious success.

But now, with the N3 project, we might be able to take a big step into the right direction. Especially if it really is as “non-evasive” as DARPA and other teams are stating that it could be. That would mean that with a simple piece to wear on the head a person could control their prosthetic limbs as if they were the real thing. Plus, DARPA is going for minimal lagtime. To the extent that they want it imperceptible to the human eye. Which would be a godsend for those who just want normal movement in their limbs.

Granted, it would be a bit of a divergence from where the project is right now, however, if it was to work, it could change tens of thousands of lives, and advance technology in a very big way. Plus, we’ll be closer to the Cyberpunk future that not everyone is fearing as much as the AI Overlord timeline that Terminator says is coming.

I’m just saying.

The Problems Currently Affecting The Project

So let’s ask the big question here, “How long is this project expected to take before it’s done?” That is the question isn’t it? DARPA knows what they want, but even they acknowledge that there are some things they have to work out before it’s fully ready:

“To enable future non-invasive brain-machine interfaces, N3 researchers are working to develop solutions that address challenges such as the physics of scattering and weakening of signals as they pass through skin, skull, and brain tissue, as well as designing algorithms for decoding and encoding neural signals that are represented by other modalities such as light, acoustic, or electro-magnetic energy.”

For those who don’t speak medical…I got your back. Basically, they teams at DARPA are working on various ways to get this to work. Including using lights, sounds, various kinds of energy wavelengths, and more. They’re determined to make sure that when the project is ready it’ll work on just about anyone’s brain without much issue.

But therein lies the problem, the brain is the most complicated thing in the human body, and even after all these years of studying it we don’t know everything about it. Thus, there are SIX teams at DARPA working on various parts of the project to try and get it to work on the brain itself.

There is also the “ethical” considerations of the project. Just because everyone could technically use the device, should they be forced to if the job requires it? There is also the question of how this can be used in things like PTSD to help soldiers “work through” the pain they’re feeling. Is that the right way to go? Most people would say no…

The Dangers Of The Project

We’re not trying to be paranoid here, but while the N3 Project is a very cool piece of technology, and could be used to advance both offensive and defensive capabilities in the field of war, it also has the potential to mess things up for the person using the interface, as well as have unexpected consequences of it being built.

Let’s start out with the basic stuff. Let’s say you’re in control of a UAV drone, and you’re wired into it and sent on a mission to take out an enemy base. Can you picture that? Cool. Now, picture that your mission is going well to start, but then out of nowhere an RPG comes out and takes down the drown. 

Since you’re wired into it…how does that affect you? The instinct would be to say that it wouldn’t, because like a VR headset you’re just “watching” it and “interacting” with certain things, right? But the problem is that the N3 Project is going far BEYOND what a VR headset or any interface could do. A VR game works on programming and set parameters, while the N3 Project has the brain doing all the work and controlling everything in the craft you’re “using”. That could affect the brain in different ways, and if it’s not compensated for, it could cause its own form of PTSD, which would be bad.

Then, if the project does work, you can bet that other nations, including some not so nice ones, are going to want to do a similar thing, and maybe “boost” it to suit their own needs. They might even not care about the humanity aspects just so that they can have their own edge in the “war” to come.

And that’s only scratching the surface of the dangers, again, we’re not trying to be paranoid, but the fact of the matter is…this stuff is scary. So we need to ask the question..

Is This The Future of Humanity?

To go back to the Terminator reference we made earlier, “Judgment Day Is Inevitable”. Whether you actually believe that or not is up to you, but for a majority of people, they feel that humanity’s ‘death’ will come at the hands of advanced technology. A lot of people think it may be via AI, but just as many think it’ll be via humanity’s desire to become more machine-like.

And while DARPA may not want to say they’re preparing for the end of the world, they are saying that they’re trying to prepare for something that mankind right now can’t handle:

“DARPA is preparing for a future in which a combination of unmanned systems, AI, and cyber operations may cause conflicts to play out on timelines that are too short for humans to effectively manage with current technology alone,” said Al Emondi, the N3 program manager.

That’s…scary. Because it begs the question of if this works, what else are they going to try and get the body to do? If this wireless interface works, there are a lot of other things that could be done with it, both good and bad.

And yeah…one of those “futures” is The Matrix. Where humanity just plugs itself into a fake world to “save them” from the despot world we’ve created.

It’s a longshot, but it’s not impossible, and that’s why some aren’t thrilled about this project.

Jumping To Conclusions?

I’m sure by this point you’re wondering, “Aren’t we jumping to conclusions with what the N3 Project might end up being? Isn’t it wrong to speculate that it could all go wrong when it could all go right? In a way, yes, but the sad thing about history is that while we can learn from it, we sometimes don’t learn enough.

Sure, there are plenty of ways this could be used in a fair and logical way, but there are also many, MANY possibilities for it to go beyond what it was designed for, which has happened with many “innocent ideas” in the past. Accountability is something that humanity lacks, especially when it comes to new projects that we feel are “foolproof” or “for the greater good”.

So yeah, it might feel odd to judge a project that is likely years away from being concluded. But it’s also fair to have a wary eye and hope that people don’t take things too far.

Human-Computer Connectivity

Regardless of whether it’s the N3 Project, cybernetics and prosthetics, AI advancements, or something else, it’s becoming more and more clear that the future of humanity is going to be linked more and more with technology. Some of it will be in the mind, some of it will be in the body, and some of it will be found in places we never though possible before.

The future of our world is filled with potential, but it’s also filled with possibilities of failure and destruction. It is up to us to try and keep the balance, lest we watch it all fall apart.

Technology can be a great thing that can help many lives, but it can also be the thing that ruins us and the planet itself. So let’s be careful about what we make and what we do with it, ok?

Thanks for watching everyone! What do you think about this special DARPA project? What do you think of the potential that this could bring? Do you think that it will all go wrong? Let me know in the comments below, be sure to subscribe, and I’ll see you next time on the channel!

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