DARPA’s New Biology Department: brain implants, bionic limbs and combat exoskeletons

Nature | June 10, 2015

By Sara Reardon

When Geoffrey Ling talks about the future of technology, his ideas go flying around the room like a whirlwind. Ling eagerly describes a world in which people live far beyond their natural lifespans, minds can be downloaded into external ‘hard drives’ for enhancement by artificial intelligence and robots and aircraft are controlled by human thought.

“It’s abso-posi-frickin-lutely going to happen,” he declares. “The next 20 years are going to make our heads spin, because we’ve already crossed over into that realm.”

Ling should know: he is doing as much as anyone to make these visions real. A neurologist by training, he is also a US Army colonel and director of the first biology funding office to operate within the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s avant-garde research arm. The Biological Technologies Office (BTO), which opened in April 2014, aims to support extremely ambitious — some say fantastical — technologies ranging from powered exoskeletons for soldiers to brain implants that can control mental disorders.

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