Inventions that seem out of science fiction
The organization in charge of inventing it is called DARPA: Agency for Research on Advanced Defense Projects. Skeptics would do well to remember that in the 1960s one of its engineers devised a way to interconnect distant computers that would give rise to the Arpanet network, the seed of what is now known as the internet.
But the Network of Networks is just one of many extraordinary advances by top-secret DARPA, which was founded 50 years ago in response to the launch of theSputnikSoviet. The agency’s contributions include radar-circumventing aircraft, night vision equipment, and the design that would give rise to the M-16 assault rifle.
At the beginning of the 21st century, American military strategists concluded that the best way to deal with cross-border threats initially was to have small groups of soldiers ready to infiltrate rather than deploying a large amount of heavy equipment. This meant that those commandos had to be able to survive without medics, communications, tactical support, or supplies.
In 2002, DARPA proclaimed that “the human being was becoming the weakest link in the chain of defense systems,” and asked Congress for $ 160 million annually for research. “Strengthening it not only involves developing materials that improve its performance, but also enabling new human capabilities.”
Critics describe DARPA’s experiments as if Frankenstein’s monsters were being created on their premises. “It’s more gossip than anything else,” says Tony Tether, director of the agency, in the magazine.WIRED. “The US military has the best training in the world. Our mission is to figure out how to keep up when soldiers are in difficult situations.” Thus, DARPA today sponsors dozens of human enhancement projects in laboratories in the country and in foreign institutions. And one of the main goals now that the recruitment rate in the US has fallen by 12% is to create two warriors for the price of one, that is, one soldier who does not sleep.
During the Vietnam War, the US military studied extensively how not sleeping affected its men. At that time, the only thing that could be done to keep recruits with their eyes open was to give them mountains of amphetamines. DARPA is currently working on a program ofSleep deprivation preventionthat will allow a pilot to fly 30 hours straight or a “green beret” to endure up to 74 hours of sustained activity without suffering psychomotor disabilities.
At Wake Forest University in North Carolina, a class of drugs called ampakines is being studied that could prevent the cognitive deficits associated with sleep deprivation. At Columbia University, a team of scientists uses transcranial magnetic stimulation to counteract fatigue and imaging techniques to analyze the neuroprotective and neuroregenerative effects of an antioxidant found in the cacao plant. At the same time, the Air Force is investigating a drug called Modafinil, which supposedly could keep us on our feet for 88 hours.
Goal: not even stop to eat for at least 3 days
But of what use is a warrior who does not sleep if he still has to eat and drink? To end this problem, another project, known as theSoldier’s Summit Performance, seeks “to be able to carry out continuous physical and cognitive work for 3 to 5 days, 24 hours a day, without the need to eat calories.”
Although on average an adult needs between 1,500 and 2,000 calories a day, a soldier in action can require almost 8,000. But since stopping to eat takes away valuable time that could be spent identifying or eliminating targets, DARPA is investigating ways to “achieve full metabolic dominance.” This includes controlling hunger using nutraceuticals – natural food supplements of marine and plant origin – and nutritional supplements to give the body what it needs when there is no food anywhere. Thus, with the help of the right bacteria, things that are considered inedible today, such as cellulose from plants, could be digested.
Much of this work is done at the Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Massachusetts. Recently, this laboratory developed a prototype of what they call the First Strike Ration. It is a food package that includes three sandwiches, a carbohydrate-fortified applesauce, and caffeine gum. According to a report from the center, the new field rations are designed “to be consumed on the move and in the first 72 hours of the conflict.” This same organism devised a dehydrated food that the soldier could rehydrate safely with his own urine. Precisely, to solve the consumption of liquids, DARPA created a special water collection program that allows it to be extracted from the air itself and, therefore, avoids having to carry it.
Now that we have seen how the combatant’s needs for sleep, water and food can be reduced, it is time to turn him into a true Superman. The projectMetabolically Dominant Soldierseeks to increase cellular performance to promote endurance and strength, and thus achieve, for example, that a commando can easily load even 100 kilos of equipment.
The first steps are being taken at Stanford University, where the “cooling glove” has been developed. This device, similar to a kettle covered inside by a kind of metallic hemisphere, produces a vacuum that draws blood to the hand and cools it, cooling the body in seconds. According to Craig Heller, one of its inventors, an expert in biological sciences,? In essence, the muscles fatigue because they overheat; the glove speeds up the exchange of temperatures that normally happens when we sweat. After four months of using it, Heller, who is in his 60s, has managed to do a thousand push-ups in a row.
On the other side of the country, at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, biologist Lan Bo Chen is working on a cocktail of quercetin, green tea and vitamin B capable of increasing the production of mitochondria, the machinery that powers the cells. cells. At the moment, the cyclists who have tried it have improved their times by 3%.
Treatments for remorse
Superman may be fine, but if his mind is full of anxieties and guilt, he could easily be defeated. For example, it is estimated that during World War II only 20% of the American infantry fired their weapons at the enemy. In Vietnam, it was already 90%. Can you end the regrets and post-traumatic disorders associated with them?
At Harvard and Columbia universities, several teams are working on methods of inhibiting fear and different ways of? Anesthetizing memory? using propranodol tablets. But DARPA wants to go further. In fact, his idea is to create a kind of human-robot. The agency does not lack experience. A few years ago, he managed to computer control a mouse that had electrodes implanted in its brains, and is currently working on a shark that can be controlled remotely. At New York University, renowned Colombian neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinás inserts nanowires into the capillaries of the rodent brain to stimulate it remotely and thus generate artificial sensations and moods. According to Llinás, direct communication between mind and machine may be possible.
In an interview for the stationPublic Broadcasting Service, Llinás raised the following assumption: “Conveniently developed, this technology would allow each member of a group of soldiers to be aware of the existence of each and every one of them and of what they are doing at all times. The group of individual people disappears to become a single entity. Thus, if one is injured, everyone could know instantly. Deep down, it would be a kind of collective consciousness. “
The Boeing Phanton Works research division also investigates enhancing the cognitive abilities of the military. His idea is that specialists who control the flight of unmanned aircraft from the ground, such as thePredatorAmerican or theHeronwill one day be able to simultaneously handle several squadrons of robot fighters at the same time. To do this, you must increase concentration, memory and, above all, the speed with which the controller recognizes targets. For now, Boeing technicians are using spectrograms to examine the behavior of your brain.
Skills of cetaceans and snakes
It is clear that vision is the direction in which more effort and money is being invested. But it is that in the Institute of Human Cognition and Machines of Florida has developed an ingenuity that endows soldiers with what seem surprising extrasensory capacities through the language!
The device, namedBrain Port, is essentially a helmet equipped with a camera, sonar and other navigation and location devices. The user has in the mouth a thin plastic sheet loaded with microelectrodes connected to the helmet that collect the sensory information. The system thus takes advantage of the brain’s ability to convert electrical pulses into visual information, whether it comes from the eyes or from another sense. In this way, with this equipment you can “see” 360º in the dark. It also gives divers limited sonar capabilities that allow them to navigate “with their eyes closed.” In fact, divers who have tested the device claim that, even without sight, they could “feel” the profile and position of the object they were looking for.
Two ways to survive massive blood loss
But high technology cannot avoid the biggest problem in a war operation: casualties. And it is that, although with certain treatments the pain can already be alleviated almost instantly, the greatest advantage that a soldier can have in war is simply not to die. It is not surprising then that DARPA is extremely interested in extending the so-called “golden hour”, the time in which victims of mass injuries must receive medical attention. “Usually it’s about 60 minutes,” says Tether. “But in some theaters of operations, like Afghanistan or Iraq, it is impossible to do an evacuation in less than 6 hours. So we asked ourselves this question: is there any way to keep alive a person who has lost 60% of their blood? during that time and doing it on the battlefield itself? Well, we found two amazing techniques. ” One is to give the wounded man an injection of estrogen, characteristically female sex hormones. And it happens that women survive blood loss better than men, probably because the possibility of experiencing childbirth prepares them better for it. Laboratory tests carried out at the University of Alabama showed that mice with half of their blood taken could survive for more than six hours if they received hormonal treatment.
Slowing down of vital processes
Another more effective way to achieve these results is to use certain chemical compounds that slow down the metabolism. To do this, DARPA made use of the studies of biochemist Mark Roth, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, whom a couple of years ago we interviewed in VERY about his research in suspended animation. So Roth discovered that some animals enter this state when oxygen levels in their bodies drop. Their hearts stop beating and the brain shuts down without damage, but they don’t die. “If you get shot, it’s just what you would need,” says Roth.
Soon after, this researcher found out that if oxygen is rapidly removed from an animal’s body, it can survive. To demonstrate this, he made mice inhale hydrogen sulfide – which made them enter a state of suspension – and immediately extracted 60% of their blood, the equivalent of having received a lethal wound. The result was that 90% of them lived more than 10 hours. “The most amazing thing is that a little water is enough to resurrect them,” says Tether. “You don’t even need a blood transfusion.” Thus, with the right equipment, any recruit could tend to a seriously injured comrade. To what extent will the field doctor continue to be necessary?
Supergadgets for super soldiers
The super soldier who does not eat, does not sleep, does not stress, does not bleed, does not have pain or moral problems will also be equipped with a mechanical exoskeleton such as those developed by the University of Berkeley and the firm Sarcos Research, which will make a load of 80 kilos feels like a feather. And you’ll have at your disposal a phraselator, a device that uses a speech recognition system to translate phrases into dozens of languages. According to those responsible for the VoxTec company, which builds the device, the tests indicate that its level of efficiency is around 70%.
However, those most critical of DARPA’s initiatives assure that it does not matter how much money, technology or exotic materials are invested in the development of these flesh and blood robots. And they warn: will they have what it takes to stop opponents who fight for their convictions even if they lack bionic eyes and detonate bombs with TV remote controls?
By Ángela Posada-Swafford