The US military has begun testing AI brain implants that can change a person’s mood on humans.
These ‘mind control’ chips emit electronic pulses that alter brain chemistry in a process called ‘deep brain stimulation.’
If they prove successful, the devices could be used to treat a number of mental health conditions and to ensure a better response to therapy.
WHAT IS DEEP BRAIN STIMULATION?
Deep brain simulation involves implanting fine wires, with electrodes at their tips, into the brain.
These are connected to extensions that are travel under the skin behind the ear and down the neck.
The electrodes deliver high frequency shock to a targeted area in the brain.
This stimulation changes some of the electrical signals in the brain to change behaviour or movement.
Deep brain simulation has been used to treat movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, but has so far been less successful in treating mood disorders.
The chips are the work of scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a branch of the US Department of Defense which develops new technologies for the military.
Researchers from the University of California (UC) and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) designed them to use artificial intelligence algorithms that detect patterns of activity associated with mood disorders.
Once detected, they can shock a patient’s brain back into a healthy state automatically.
Experts believe the chips could be beneficial to patients with a range of illnesses, from Parkinson’s disease to chronic depression.
Speaking to Nature, Edward Chang, a neuroscientist at the University of California, said: ‘We’ve learned a lot about the limitations of our current technology.
‘The exciting thing about these technologies is that for the first time we’re going to have a window on the brain where we know what’s happening in the brain when someone relapses.’
The chips were tested in six people who have epilepsy and already have electrodes implanted in their brains to track their seizures.
Through these electrodes, the researchers were able to track what was happening in their brains throughout the day.
Older implants are constantly doing this, but the new approach lets the team deliver a shock as and when is needed.
By tracking a patient’s brain activity over the course of one to three weeks, they were able to create an algorithm to ‘decode’ their moods.
The MGH team then discovered that by delivering shocks to regions of the brain that deal with decision-making and emotions, participants performed significantly better in set tasks.
This included matching images of numbers or identifying emotions on faces.
Difficulties with concentration and problems with empathy are characteristics of a range of mood disorders.
Although researchers won’t be able to read people’s minds, the chips do raise a number of ethical concerns.
Alik Widge, engineering director of the MGH team, added: ‘We will have access to activity that encodes their feelings.’
Dr Widge’s group is working with neuroethicists to address the moral implications of their work.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature.
The chips were tested in people who have epilepsy and already have electrodes implanted in their brains to track their seizures, by the UC team.
Through these electrodes, the researchers can track what is happening in the brain as they use the chips to stimulate the brain.
Older implants are constantly doing this, but the new approach lets the team shock the brain as and when is needed.
By tracking a patient’s brain activity over the course of one to three weeks, they were able to create an algorithm to ‘decode’ their mood.
In separate tests, the MGH team discovered that by delivering to regions of the brain that deal with decision-making and emotions, participants performed significantly better in set tasks.