Skip to Content
Artificial intelligence

To get smarter AI, DARPA wants to get inside our brains

April 11, 2018

The Pentagon’s outside-the-box research group thinks pushing AI forward requires better understanding of how our own brains work.

Background: DARPA has developed human-computer interfaces that let paralyzed patients learn to move robotic limbs. But there’s a problem: the brain never stops learning and experimenting with new ways to carry out tasks, and the software that translates brain signals into commands for robotic limbs can’t keep up. In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, a director at DARPA says AI could help.

How to do it: DARPA wants to use reinforcement learning, a process whereby machines learn by trial and error, to improve their software. Reinforcement learning has proved great at playing video games, but everyday movements like grabbing a cup are much more complicated. To create AI that can accomplish DARPA’s goals, we will need more insight into how the brain accomplishes these tasks and others so effortlessly.

But: At the moment this kind of tech is a dream, not a reality. Tech companies are spending billions on AI, but for the most part interfacing with the brain isn’t on their agenda. And we still don’t understand much about how the brain achieves its incredible ability to keep learning and adapting. So yeah, there’s a long way to go before AI-powered robotic limbs are commonplace.

Deep Dive

Artificial intelligence

DeepMind’s cofounder: Generative AI is just a phase. What’s next is interactive AI.

“This is a profound moment in the history of technology,” says Mustafa Suleyman.

Deepfakes of Chinese influencers are livestreaming 24/7

With just a few minutes of sample video and $1,000, brands never have to stop selling their products.

AI hype is built on high test scores. Those tests are flawed.

With hopes and fears about the technology running wild, it's time to agree on what it can and can't do.

You need to talk to your kid about AI. Here are 6 things you should say.

As children start back at school this week, it’s not just ChatGPT you need to be thinking about.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.