DARPA plans to record 1 million neurons at the same time by 2020 compared to 500 neurons today

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) started a new project this week to dramatically increase the number of human brain neurons that can be read simultaneously, according to the MIT Technology Review. In four years, DARPA wants a breakthrough from neuroscientists that will record from 1 million neurons simultaneously.

The initiative stems from the disappointing predictions of progress in this field based on Stevenson’s Law. Similarly to how Moore’s Law has predicted exponential growth in the number of transistors on a silicon chip since 1965, Stevenson’s Law predicts exponential growth in the number of neurons that can be read simultaneously. According to Stevenson’s Law, the number of neurons that can be recorded simultaneously will double every seven years, and currently sits at about 500. DARPA’s goal of 1 million neurons will substantially break out from the limits of Stevenson’s Law.

The goal of recording or “reading” brain neuron states is the goal to stimulate or “write to” at least 100,000 neurons in the brain. The stimulating device should be the size of a nickel or smaller and will operate wirelessly. Some of the research will involve studies on human subjects, requiring research teams to obtain investigational device exemptions from the FDA and follow the agency’s safety standards.