Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work warned that America would soon lose its military competitive advantage if it does not pursue technologies such as employing artificial intelligence.
Altering human beings from the inside to more effectively fight in combat is claimed to presents ethical dilemmas for American scientists and military planners.
Work says those ethical concerns typically don’t apply to authoritarian governments like Russia’s or China’s, but their lack of hesitation in developing EHOs may force America’s hand.
Previous US human augmentation research
DARPA had started work on a super-soldier suit called TALOS (Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit) unlike anything in the history of warfare. Engineered with full-body ballistics protection; integrated heating and cooling systems; embedded sensors, antennas, and computers; 3D audio (to indicate where a fellow warfighter is by the sound of his voice); optics for vision in various light conditions; life-saving oxygen and hemorrhage controls; and more, TALOS is strikingly close to the futuristic exoskeleton that Gorman first envisioned for DARPA 25 years ago, and aims to be “fully functional” by 2018.
It was the collapse of the Soviet Union that accelerated many of DARPA’s most radical super-soldier science programs. The revelation that the Soviets had developed an extensive biological-weapons program caused DARPA to bring biologists into its ranks, and with the life sciences at the fore, DARPA began to look inside the human body, toward a scientific capability that could transform soldiers from the inside out.
DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office (DSO) investigated a mind-altering pain vaccine. Once injected into a soldier who had been shot, the vaccine would theoretically reduce the pain from inflammation and swelling. After 30 seconds of agony, the soldier would feel no pain for 30 days. As long as the bleeding was contained the soldier could keep fighting.
The government’s research into halting the bleeding yielded another program that involved injecting millions of microscopic magnets into a person, which could later be brought together into a single area to stop bleeding with the wave of a wand.
DARPA has also studied whales and dolphins—mammals that don’t need to sleep in long chunks like humans do—as inspiration for creating a soldier who requires little to no sleep for a week or more. Whales and dolphins independently control the left and right lobes of their brains, keeping one alert while the other sleeps. It’s not known if DAPRA scientists made any progress with human lobe control, but they did explore powerful anti-sleep drugs like Modafini
From about 1999 to 2008, DARPA had a long-term, $3 billion program to help make such a “Metabolically Dominant Soldier.” In other words, the military is studying how to use technology and biology to meld man and machine and transcend the limits of the human body. Described the project director, “My measure of success is that the International Olympic Committee bans everything we do” The $3 billion program is definitely trying to achieve transhuman performance goals.
Goldblatt ran the DSO until 2004, and when he spoke last year, he could only describe unclassified programs. More than 10 years after his departure, the status of the “super-soldier” pursuits he helped launch is murky; DARPA’s highest-risk, highest-payoff programs remain secret until they are unveiled on the battlefield. Still, given the progress of the exoskeleton, these or similar programs could be closer to reality than anyone realizes.
Other programs explored other questions. What if soldiers could have 10 times the muscle endurance of enemy soldiers? What if they could leap seven feet or do 300 pull-ups a day?
Wearable gear would enable running at 100 meter olympic sprinter speed for hours and the 7 foot vertical leap, the wall crawling, personal flight, invisibility, greatly enhanced strength, better body armor and carrying bigger and more powerful weapons.
The drugs and genetic enhancements and some technology which gets applied would allow for regeneration, faster healing, muscle strength enhancement up to current olympic levels, endurance of an Alaskan sled dog, cognitive enhancement, operate without sleep for many days without performance degradation, the metabolic energy of twenty year old for a forty or fifty year old and immunity to pain.
The Metabolically Dominant Soldier program is managed by Joe Bielitzki. He is talking about fixing your cells so that you could live off your fat. Bielitzki acknowledges the potential for spin-off technologies. “Forty billion dollars a year goes into the weight loss industry in this country,” he muses. “This will change it.”
Regeneration, better healing, better immune systems would all revolutionize healthcare costs and healthcare effectiveness. So trillions in economic benefit as a side effect of supersoldier success. DARPA is also trying to enhance cognition, training and giving the energy levels of youth to the elderly. Those could provide multi-billion or even trillion dollar per year boosts to the US and world economy.
Projects in pipeline range from drugs that will boost muscles and energy by a factor of 10, akin to steroids…on steroids (the project is jokingly termed the “Energizer Bunny in Fatigues”) to wearable, cooling gloves that regulate body temperature and prevent soldiers from getting overheated (and thus tired) even on the hottest desert day. [Keeping the body cool increases endurance]
A major focus is on helping the soldier’s body to better deal with trauma and damage. One such is the “pain vaccines” coming out of a program at Rinat Neuroscience [Pfizer acquired Rinat Neuroscience in 2006]. Researchers are hopeful these “will block the sense of pain for almost a month,” describes DARPA’s Michael Goldblatt.
The substance does is block intense pain in less than 10 seconds. Its effects last for 30 days. It doesn’t stifle your reactions. If you touch a hot stove, you still have the initial shock; your hand will still automatically jerk away. But after that, the torment is gone. The product works on the inflammatory response that is responsible for the majority of subacute pain. If you get shot, you feel the bullet, but after that, the inflammation and swelling that trigger agony are substantially reduced. The company has already hit its first milestones in animal testing and is preparing reports for scientific conferences.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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