23 February 2024 in Dossier A.I., Home, Science & Technology


In May last year, Elon Musk’s start-up Neuralink obtained permission from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration, the US body that dictates public health regulations) to start tests to implant its specially designed chip into a human brain[1] . And on 31 January this year, Musk announced that for the first time one of his microchips had been inserted into the head of a living person[2] .

Neuralink’s ambition is to produce implanted microchips that communicate with computers directly through thought. The stated aim is to help people who are paralysed or suffer from neurological diseases. As Musk himself said at his start-up’s annual conference in 2020, the ultimate goal is to enable humanity a ‘symbiosis with artificial intelligence’. But the military is also thinking about the use of this microchip, and for quite different purposes.

The new frontier of military research in the US is two studies commissioned to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)[3] . The Agency reports to the Pentagon, is headquartered next to the imposing polygon building in Arlington, Virginia, and employs 220 researchers divided into six technical bureaus: biotechnology, defence, information, microsystems, strategic technologies and tactical technologies.

The first project received $65 million in funding to create a human-computer interface by implanting a special microchip directly into the skull to improve certain capabilities of soldiers. An attempt is thus being made to develop a bio-implantable system capable of interfacing the human brain with the digital world. This project stems from the fact that US scientists have managed, by means of special algorithms, to separate brain signals that translate into actions from those that do not, and therefore do not influence people’s behaviour. What is more, they were able not only to record these signals, but also to understand which ones order specific actions. All this could lead DARPA to create software capable of transmitting suggestions directly into the brains of soldiers. In other words, to control them. Almost as if they were robots.

The project leader, Hamid Krim, explained the usefulness of the hoped-for future uses of the ‘brain’ microchip at a press conference: ‘The brain starts to give signals of stress or tiredness long before a person realises he or she is agitated or exhausted. The new technology will tell the soldier in advance when it is time to rest, eat, calm down. In battle, it is not always clear exactly where the bullet or shrapnel hit, but the soldier’s brain knows. And if the corresponding signals are displayed on a special laptop, everything will be immediately clear. In fact, the capabilities of this technology are only limited by the imagination’[4] .

The half-human half-robot soldier imagined by Isaac Asimov in 1950[5]

Krim also illustrated another possible use of the microchip-interface between brain and digital world[6] : ‘Let’s say my colleague and I are in a combat situation. We have to discuss further actions, but we have to remain completely silent. I mentally say the message, my laptop or smartphone records it and sends it to my friend’s electronic device. This, in turn, sends my message directly to his brain. The result: we understood each other perfectly and did not make a sound’[7] .

The Pentagon is also working to give its soldiers in war hypersensitivity to speed up reactions and reflexes. Six research groups are working on this project: four are responsible for improving vision, two for improving hearing. Through the microchip, the soldiers’ brains will also be directly connected to a computer network, a source of real-time information for the fighters on what is happening on the battlefield. Walkie-talkies and tactical tablets would go to waste: they would no longer be needed, with the advantage of no longer cluttering and distracting the fighter.

One of the project leaders, Phillip Alvelda, convincingly explained its usefulness, also noting that today’s best brain-computer interfaces are still ‘like an antediluvian modem trying to make two supercomputers communicate with each other’[8] . A possible civilian spin-off of these new technologies could be both the training of personnel to be trained in the working world and the care of people suffering from blindness, paralysis and speech disorders.

In the civil medical-surgical field, it should be noted that a microchip exists and is already in use, successfully inserted under the retina in a minimally invasive operation so far in 7 patients in France and the United States. It is a device containing just under 400 tiny optical sensors (photodiodes) that transform images into electrical signals sent to the brain. It has no connecting cables and is powered by the mini-camera glasses worn by the patient.

For now, with this microchip you can see yes, but not perfectly: you can distinguish objects well and read, as long as the letters are very large. Dr Andrea Cusumano, an ophthalmologist and lecturer at the University of Rome Tor Vergata[9] , who has been working on this device in Italy for years, hopes to restore the sight of singer and Paralympic champion Annalisa Minetti[10] .

The Borg, technological monsters designed for the Star Trek film series[11]

However, Pentagon research is not only concerned with the brains of soldiers in combat actions. There is also the project Optimising the effectiveness of military personnel: androgen therapy for biomedical enhancement of combat effectiveness[12] . Studies are in fact underway on the effect of steroid and testosterone injections on the ‘physical, muscle mass, protein balance and mental capacity of those engaged in stressful physical and psychological activities. The hope is that increased levels of the male hormone will help soldiers engaged in long combat missions to maintain strength and lucidity. Soldiers, OK. But what about female soldiers?

If one wanted to be humorous, one could note with satisfaction the great progress compared to when during the First World War, Italian troops barricaded in the trenches were generously ‘comforted’ with schnapps and coffee before being launched en masse to the attack. Research not only by the USA – but especially by the US – is committed to the development of robots to replace flesh-and-blood soldiers in battle, to avoid sending too many of them to the slaughter[13] . Assaults conducted by robots instead of selected troops or entire divisions of various sizes, from platoons to entire divisions. I hope to die before I have to suffer or even ‘just’ witness as a journalist robot assaults on humans…

In practice, this ‘robotisation of soldiers’ is nothing other than the large-scale encore of the drones that, not only in Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine and Gaza, are also replacing planes with pilots on board in bombing raids. Will robot soldiers make their experimental debut in the wars in Ukraine[14] and Gaza? However, robots could also fight entire battles, automated thanks to special digital programmes. From play station to battle station. And tomorrow, who knows, to the war station. With automated launching even of missiles with nuclear warheads?

It is quite clear that with the monstrous sums burned each year in the furnace of ‘military expenditure’, one could really wipe off the face of the Earth a large chunk of the poverty and misery that kills tens of millions of people every year, and in particular millions of children – who die from a range of diseases led (surprisingly) by diarrhoea. Or defeat or avoid, with the right large-scale prevention, pandemics like the ongoing Covid pandemic.

The very expensive space explorations aimed at the ‘conquest of Space’ are very often justified by the statement “We must look for life in Space!”. Even if it may be mainly to search for Rare Earths. Discover life? One only has to look around our planet to discover how many lives there are. And how many are burnt – by the tens of millions – by hunger, thirst, disease, lack of drinking water, ignorance. And wars.


[1] https://www.avvenire.it/agora/pagine/un-azienda-di-musk-autorizzata-a-impiantare-chip-nel-cervello

[2] https://www.focus.it/scienza/scienze/neuralink-telepathy-annuncio-microchip-cervello-umano#:~:text=Elon%20Musk%20l%27has%20done,%22%20of%20the%20dispositive%20is%20Telepathy

[3] https://www.capterra.it/glossary/453/darpa-defense-advanced-research-projects-agency#:~:text=The%20DARPA%20(Defense%20Advanced%20Research,from%20the%20Armed%20Forces 

[4] https://www.c4isrnet.com/battlefield-tech/it-networks/2020/11/25/could-soldiers-silently-communicate-using-brain-signals-in-the-future/

[5] https://bookanalysis.com/isaac-asimov/i-robot/review/

[6] https://www.occhisulmondo.info/2020/12/15/i-cyber-soldati-made-in-usa-fantascienza-o-realta/

[7] https://idstch.com/technology/biosciences/brain-to-brain-communication-on-the-frontlines-the-emergence-of-brain-to-brain-interfaces-for-soldiers/

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjac3RBoK1c

[9] https://www.pressreader.com/italy/oggi/20160316/284567357011116

[10] https://salute.robadadonne.it/galleria/annalisa-minetti-sogno-speranza-di-tornare-a-vedere/

[11] https://www.cbr.com/star-trek-theory-borg-queen-the-next-generation/

[12] Optimising Performance for Soldiers: Androgen Therapy for Biomedical Performance Enhancement

[13] https://www.academia.edu/56497106/Riccardo_Campa_Le_armi_robotizzate_del_futuro

[14] https://www.agendadigitale.eu/sicurezza/in-ucraina-combatteranno-anche-i-robot-cosi-la-guerra-diventa-cyberwar/

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