Implanting a computer chip into the brain
Bestselling author and journalist Annie Jacobsen says Darpa is already implanting computer chips into the brains of wounded US soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan iStock

A new book written about the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) says that wounded soldiers returning from campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq are having computer chips implanted in their brains to help them heal.

In August 2014, President Obama unveiled 19 plans he was enacting to improve the mental health of US soldiers and veterans. One of the plans included developing computer chips that could be implanted within the brain's tissue to help regulate the nervous system, which would help to alleviate symptoms of a variety of conditions from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to arthritis.

Before this, in May 2014 the Pentagon had announced that it was working to develop these brain computer chips using a $12m (£7.9m) grant that was part of a huge overarching $78.9m research program into building "new, minimally invasive neurotechnologies" to help the brain and body heal faster.

According to Defense One, the Pentagon said that Darpa hoped to develop a prototype for the chip within five years and then seek approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

But the chips are already being implanted

DARPA developing technologies to treat health conditions
A slide explaining Darpa's goals to develop non-invasive technologies to treat and monitor conditions relating to the central nervous system and organs DARPA

However, New York Times bestselling author and journalist Annie Jacobsen claims that Darpa is already embedding the chips into the brains of injured soldiers coming back from the Middle East.

In her book, entitled The Pentagon's Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA , Jacobsen writes that Darpa scientists are already testing neuroprosthetics brain implants on wounded soldiers, although she admits that the Defense Department refused to allow her to interview any of the patients who have received the implants.

"Of the 2.5 million Americans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 300,000 of them came home with traumatic brain injury. Darpa initiated a series of programs to help cognitive functioning, to repair some of this damage, and those programs centre around putting brain chips inside the tissue of the brain," Jacobsen told NPR.

Jacobsen said that although on the surface, the technology could increase our knowledge of understanding how to heal the human brain, she was most concerned that the research gained from the chips by Darpa could be put towards creating artificially intelligent drone assassins or as a tool for mass surveillance.

Scientists fear Darpa research will be used for surveillance and drones

"This is a concern that has been voiced to me by many knowledgeable scientists who have worked with Darpa over the years," said Jacobsen.

Did you know?

The process of implanting a chip or any other technical device in any part of the body is commonly referred in the media as turning a human into a "cyborg".

So-called cyborgs do exist in the world, but only to the extent of being patients fitted with bionic limbs or people who choose to have microchips implanted into their bodies

"And what my sources suggested to me was that the key to artificial intelligence lies inside the human brain. And the suggestion is that these brain-chip programs that Darpa keeps very classified are, in fact, prototypes to push artificial intelligence to becoming a reality."

By using an implanted chip to read the electrical signals emitted by the brain, Darpa hopes to enhance the brain and work out how to create true artificial intelligence, and it has already conducted research programs looking at how soldiers could potentially communicate on the battlefield using thought alone, or how thoughts could become actions in people who are paralysed, for example.

"Imagine a time when the human brain has its own wireless modem so that instead of acting on thoughts, warfighters have thoughts that act," Darpa's Eric Eisenstadt told a crowd at a technology conference in 2002, according to Fusion.