Geoffrey Ling, M.D., Ph.D., is a medical doctor who retired from the United States Army as a Colonel. He served as the Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Biological Technologies Office from 2014 until 2016. He is considered the “US Army’s premier subject matter expert on traumatic brain injury (TBI)“, and was for years the only neuro-intensive care specialist in the US military.
In this talk, held at AngelMD’s Alpha Conference in Napa, California, Dr. Ling discusses the changes and work required to prevent innovation from being stifled. Among the innovation that Dr. Ling helped to invent is prosthetic limbs that are controlled by the mind and not through muscles.
The thesis of Dr. Ling’s talk is that saying no is easy, because it prevents you from having to do any work. Saying yes will always lead to more work, but could also lead to amazing innovation, even when the idea seems crazy. Through his talk, he demonstrates how military technology is used in consumer products, and how yesterday’s crazy ideas became today’s example of innovation.
Geoffrey Ling: Thanks a lot everybody. I know I’m standing between you and the wine train, so I will try to get out of the way. Alright, so, as you heard, I came from an agency called DARPA, and many of you have probably never heard of DARPA. Some of you may have. DARPA is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and DARPA was started at a very critical time in US history. It was a time when America felt very vulnerable, and it was a time when the Russians were our biggest adversary, and what the Russians did was, they sent a satellite up into space called Sputnik and Sputnik beat the US into space, and that really infuriated the President at the time, who was President Eisenhower.
President Eisenhower said, how could it be the Russians, whose economy is one-tenth of ours, whose scientific prowess is one-100th of ours, beat us into space, and he felt it was because, what a surprise, we had become bureaucratic and too conservative in our thinking, and that was just wrong. So, one of the things that he implemented was this agency called DARPA to go ahead and meet that challenge and then prevent this from ever happening again, and so, DARPA has, since then, has risen to meet that challenge, and we’ll talk about that.
But, it is not dissimilar to what you do. What you do is you try to find the best and the brightest, the most extraordinary ideas, bring them together, cultivate them so that it can then blossom into a capability. At the end of the day, it is a capability. I know, you guys want to make money. I get it, but along the way, you want to build a capability. Right? That’s really what it is. It’s not about the science. It’s not about the number of papers they publish. It’s not about any of that junk. It’s about building a capability, and that’s in fact what DARPA does.
So, I don’t have a clicker. Could you click to the next slide, please, and go to the next one, cause I don’t want to slow down … I want to keep going, alright. So, DARPA’s mission is to maintain US tech superiority. Four words, easy. Maintain US technological superiority. That’s the only goal of DARPA. That’s it, but it is really, to fund science, not for science’s sake, but to build capability.
So, to do that, like yourselves, we try to develop an approach that would, one, mitigate risk, yet at the same time, not stifle innovation. So, when I was at DARPA, and I was there for 12 years, and I had the privilege of founding DARPA’s biotech office, the first new office they had in 25 years. The previous office was in 1990 and was called the Micro-Processing Office. That was in 1990, and you saw what had happened.
A lot of the technology, early technology, in investments was made by DARPA are legendary in that field. In fact, your own cellphone, 80% of the components came out of DARPA programs. That thing that makes your screen turn, that was a DARPA program. Siri? That was a DARPA program. So, it gives you a flavor … Titanium, any of you guys play golf? Titanium steel? That’s a DARPA program. So, on and on it goes. The docks in here? Fast scanning for the belly? That was a DARPA program. The neat part was, it wasn’t designed for those purposes.
The screen was designed so that jet fighter pilots, with the heads up display, as they’re doing their maneuvers, their screen will always be upright. Yes, it goes into your cellphone. Cool, but that’s really what it was designed for. The fast can used for abdominal, to locate free blood, that was actually developed as a portable ultra-sound machine that the mechanics could use on airplane tires to find discontinuities to determine when they have to switch out an airplane tire. Last thing you want is a flat tire when you’re landing. Okay, that’s what it was designed for.
So, dual uses is very common in this. So, what I did when I was at DARPA, and as I moved my way up through middle management as it were, I talked to my PMs, and I said to them, it is key, where we sit in US government, is we’re spending money that’s not ours, and we don’t have an ROI like the folks do. Right. ROI is to make something great to get a company going so that we can tax the living hell out of ’em, and so they can hire a lot of American workers and we can tax the hell out of them too. So, that is our governmental goal, and so it is perfect.
We don’t want your IP. We don’t want to have equity. We don’t want any of that stuff. We want you to go on and build your company so we can tax you. So, really cool. We understand each other, and everybody’s happy.
And, I told them, when you go out, you’re going hear crazy ideas. You’re going hear unusual idea. You’re going hear ideas that you believe violate about four laws of physics. Alright, but you’re obligated to listen to it. You’re obligated to listen to, because, what you should ask yourself, if this thing works, if this maniac comes up with this cool idea, and it really works, is it cool? And, if it is, go for it. Find a way to say yes. Any asshole can say no. Go to DMV and tell you need your license renewed today, and you already got the answer. Saying no is the easiest thing in the world, because saying no obviates you from having to do anything.
Saying yes is hard because it means you have to do something. So, I say them, if this is … A guy comes in and says, I got a flying carpet. It’s absolutely the coolest thing in the world, and you’re going, man, you’re out of your fricking mind. I’m going throw you out of here. Before you do that, make sure that he is not out of his mind. I told them this, because if any of you guys miss … If I hear that you turned them down and they come out and they succeed, and they really create that magic carpet, I’m going fire your ass. No, seriously. You are out the door, because it means you did not do due diligence. You did not look. You did not try to figure it how to make it work, because it was really cool, because that’s how the Russians beat us into space.
A lot of people said, aw, can’t be done, and they did it. If the Russians can do and we didn’t, there’s something seriously wrong. So, I said, look for ways to say yes. Now, granted, you’ll find out that you can’t, and if you can’t, you can’t, but if you don’t go into the mindset that you’re going say yes, you’re easy default is to say no.
Second, whatever it is, if you think it is cool, and you think really is going to work, never under-resource that innovator, because then you damned them to failure. Resource them, resource them, resource them. Make sure they have enough, and that doesn’t mean money, by the way, and I’m going come back to that in a moment. It also means technical support, governmental support, regulatory support, all that stuff, because you want them to succeed.
Third, this is not a gift. DAPRA is never a gift. DARPA does not give out grants. It’s not the NIH. We give out contracts. There’s contracts to perform. There’s timelines. There’s milestones to meet. You work with the innovator to make sure we all agree on these timelines and these milestones, but at the end of the day, you’re going hold them to it, because there’s something called the DARPA clause, same clause you have, is that anytime for any reason, without prior notice, the US government may terminate this contract with giving notice. We can pull the money at any time. Keeps everybody awake.
We also believe fail early, fail fast. Yeah, buddy you can make this wild carpet, I’m going resource the living daylights out of you, but the moment I figure out you cannot do it, boom, we’re outta here. Fail early, fail fast. Why? Because we take the money and use it elsewhere. At the end of the day, it’s not our money. It’s the taxpayer’s money.
And, third, close … the last point, is really key. It’s close management. When we gave money. It wasn’t go forth and do. We became part of the team. We became part of the team. We have what they call SETAs, Science and Engineering Technical Advisors, and every week, every single week, we met with the performing team. Thursday morning, 9 o’clock, you’re going get a call from us, and I want to hear the PI. I want to hear what you did, and I want to hear how you’re doing on your milestones, every single week, because we are managing the taxpayer’s dollars. This is not NIH. We are not giving you a grant and going hope you come up with something a year from now. We’re going be in your shorts, but, when we find that you may be stalling up on a problem.
Let’s pretend it is … you’re building a pump, and so there’s a mechanical engineer component, there’s an electrical engineer component, and you’re hung out. The control mechanism is not working. We’re not going sit there and torch you about it. I’m going send one of my SETAs down there and they’re going help you figure this out. The goal is for you to succeed. So, we try to help them figure out. I may get a call back and say, “Hey. There’s running into problems. They need a controller, a different kind of controller. It’s going cost another $10,000 dollars.” I’m going give them the $10,000. Why would I not do that? Right, because at the end of the day, I want the capability, so I will give them the $10,000, and we’re off the races, however, there will be a point, and there maybe a point, and there often is a point, where it’s a bridge too far, and we got it, we give up, and we all walk away not angry with each other, and, remember, failure is not … doesn’t mean you haven’t learned something. In fact, if you fail properly, you will have learned. We all know this. In our lives, we’ve learned the most from our failures, and I think we all accept that. You have to have acceptance of failure, when you play this game.
And, so we actually had an 80% failure rate. I expected the PMs to have an 80% failure rate, because otherwise not pushing the ragged limit. We should have a higher failure rate than you, because we had a different penal system basically. I mean, when we lose the money, it’s embarrassment. When you lose the money, someone doesn’t eat at home. So, we understood that’s what our job was. Our job was to go with early stage technology, find out the best technology, push it, push it, push it hard, fail, then come back and try again. It’s all good. It’s all good, but one of the key things that we do that a lot of you don’t do, is we make doggone sure that we met with the teams every fricking week, cause wanted them to succeed.
And, so, we put a lot of effort into helping with the regulatory problems, helping them with the government issues, and most of all, helping with their tech. I mean, I had PhDs working for me in chemical engineering, and electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering, in microbiology, in neuroscience, and on it goes, and I will send them down there to help, and I will send them right away. I would know that last week they were doing fine, and this week they’re not, it’s not a big fix. That’s not going be a big fix, but if I waited six months, it’s a big fix, and I’ve lost money and time, and that’s a bad thing.
So, that’s in fact how we did it, and you would say, well geez [Geoff 00:10:49], that’s a lot of words. Did you really do anything? Who came up with stealth technology? We did, and we did it in 1978. 1978. We were flying stealth planes over Kosovo, and they had no fricking idea we’re doing … Why did we do it, because the goal was, and this is it, whatever you do, remember I said if it really works, it’s cool. Don’t do stuff that’s not cool. No, seriously, if you’re telling me you’re going come up with a better shoe, or a better pair of eyeglasses, the NIH is located on 390 Wisconsin Avenue in [inaudible 00:11:21], but what we want to do is, you’re going do something dramatic. So, stealth was I’m going make an airplane invisible. That’s cool. That’s cool. That’s cool. Alright.
Anybody here hear the name J.C. Linkletter? Who here’s heard of J.C. Linkletter. Ah. Some fine folks. Is J.C. Linkletter a smart guy? A pretty smart guy. You know who J.C. Linkletter is? He invented the internet. Seriously. No, joke.
Speaker 2: I thought it was Trump.
Geoffrey Ling: No. No. No. You thought it was … Who was the Vice President … Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Gore. Gore worked for J.C. No. J.C. Linkletter, in 1963, conceived of the idea of how can we get computers to talk to each other, and he funded it. He got IBM to work on it. He got Stanford to work on it, and a couple other people, and in fact, 1969, they created something called the ARPANET. The Advanced Research Project Agency Network. Google history of the internet and you’ll see J.C. Linkletter up there and he was a DARPA program manager, and he’s the guy considered to be the father of the internet, and you tell me that you know of anything else not as pervasive in our society. That’s big.
And, you know why he wanted to do that? You know why? What was his concept? It wasn’t to sell Amazon toys. It was because he wanted to have a secure way for government scientists to use a core computation facility. It’s cloud computing, and he thought of it in 1963. So, that was pretty good. I think that’s pretty good.
UAV’s, we already had those. We had drones already built in the ’90s. They’re a big deal now, but we’re the guys who did it. Night vision googles. I want my soldiers to see at night. Think about that. That’s cool, and we came up with it, and in Iraq and Afghanistan, if you look at it, most of our combat operations are at night. Do you know why? The US Army owns the night, and nothing better than to kick down the door of bad guy and point a gun in his face at 3 o’clock in the morning, but it is. You can see at night. That’s cool. That’s cool.
So, those are the things that give you a flavor of what DARPA does, but to get there, because you want to see in the night. You want your airplanes to be invisible. You want all those things. It’s not about just giving the cash. It’s also adequately managing that money, and adequately managing the performing teams. You want to mitigate risks, not just because you think they’re smart, but because you’re going give them all that support. You’re going get in there and understand their tech. You’re going understand their tech as well as they do, and that’s how you do it.
So, what are some things. As I said, don’t be limited by the probable or the doable, instead go after what you really want. So, I always told my PMs, what do you really, really, really want. Alright, here’s something that’s super, super simple. Now, remember, I’m a soldier. I fought in Afghanistan. I fought in Iraq. I did six combat tours. So, that’s why I think the way I do. When you take a look at those two guys up there in the corners, they’re [inaudible 00:14:11] medics, what are they doing while they are doing that? What are they not doing? What are they not doing when they’re doing this, doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on somebody?. I have one medic for 30 combat soldiers, and they’re engaged in a firefight in Fallujah, bang, bang, bang. Three guys go down. One guy’s not breathing. He’s mouth-to-mouthing. What is he not doing?
He’s not helping anybody else. So, what does he need? He needs something to breath for that patient, either that or let him die. All he needed was a simple ventilator. Everybody knows what a ventilator looks like. You wheel it into the doggone room. You want one the size of a Harry Potter book, and that’s it. So, we did a program. We build a Harry Potter book-sized ventilator, and it cost $3,000. I don’t have a lot time. I’m going cut to the chase. That sucker, we had the performing team that did it, they built it … the first prototype took them six months to build it. We had a final design review in three more months. At nine month times we put it before the FDA. The FDA approved it in 72 hours.
Geoffrey Ling: Do you know why? Because we’re standing right in the doorstop going, it’s going out to combat soldiers who are being killed in Afghanistan right now, and if you want your name on the front page of the Washington Post, you just stand in the fricking way. So, they went ahead and did it. Then the army says, look these two guys, they didn’t have the wherewithal to build a factory, so we gave them an interest-free 30 year loan to build a factory. It’s called [ManTech 00:15:24], it’s a different source of funding opportunity, nobody knows about it except we do. We helped them with it. They got the loan. They built a company in [Grapevine 00:15:38], Texas, and they’re making the thing, and every US combat helicopter, not just the medevacs, combat, is carrying one of those things. Alright. It was in the field in less than two years, after idea start, because we are all about how do you get it out there.
So, [automedics 00:15:55], that’s the company. You can buy one for yourself. Sometimes it can be mundane. Sometimes it gets really mundane. Can you build a logistics capability, oh yuck, to help a social problem, cool. So, this came from me. THat’s me in the lower right hand corner. That’s my combat support hospital, the 452nd Combat Support in Afghanistan. My first combat tour in 2003, tent city. You can see it. You see the pharmacy, that’s that thing that’s behind that [connex 00:16:19] with the big windows. The connex with the big windows, by the way, is our bathroom, but that’s the pharmacy.
That is not the pharmacy you see on the left hand side, which is your classic hospital pharmacy, and so, I’m sitting there, going like, I got this young solider, bang, hit in the head, super bad brain trauma, he’s under my care because I’m a neuro-intensive care doc, but I got sent as an intensivist, so I was just running the ICU, but I am a neuro-intensive care doctor, and I’m look at this kid, and I said, I need bromocriptine. He’s having [inaudible 00:16:45], his blood pressure is all over the place, his heart rate is all over the place. I cannot put him on a 21 hour airplane flight to Landstuhl, Germany. I cannot do it, so I need bromocriptine. I got no bromocriptine. I’m just furious. Bromocriptine is a generic drug. It’s over … it’s cheap. I can run down to the CVS here and buy probably a box of it for $50.
My PhD is in medicinal chemistry, and I said, all I need is a chemistry set, and I can go ahead and manufacture this myself, if I had a stinking chemistry set, so it was like totally messed up that I don’t have bromo and I don’t have a way to make it, so I said, we got to change this and so what do you do? Build a machine that can make drugs, and so that machine that you’re looking at right now, is built. It will make 14 different drug classes. It can make a 1,000,000 doses of atropine per day. It can make 5,000 dose of Cipro per day. The idea is, push a button, and make a drug. It ain’t that hard. It ain’t that hard. Right? It ain’t that hard. What? Thank you. Thank you.
And so, it makes 14 different drug classes. Right now, it’s on track to go to the company spun out. And, you would ask, who would make it for you, Geoff? That seems like … I want to make a machine and all that. It’s easy. I got two friends to make it for me, Klavs Jensen, Chairman of Chemical Engineering at MIT, and I got Tim Jamison to be the chemist, Chairman of Chemistry at MIT, so I got two good, smart guys to go build this thing. That’s the machine that was built. You see it. It will make 14 different drug classes. It will make it in volume, just push buttons, and out comes your drug. It will come out as a pill or as an injectable. Right?
What about … Can you do it for large molecules, such as [inaudible 00:18:12]. The answer is yes. That’s the machine. You see it right there. It fits inside that pelican case. It’ll make about a gram in 16 hours of Erythropoietin for example. It can also make Streptokinase, human growth hormone, Interferon, and seven more coming online. It can make the protein-based drugs. This one is further away from FDA approval because this is making bio-similars, whereas the other thing is making bio-identicals. So, that is what that is, but I think that it can actually help the civilians, because, yes, I want it at my combat support hospitals, yes, I want it with my special forces teams. Yes, I want it in a submarine, but, can it help the civilian world, you would ask?
I think so, because look, these are all the drug shortages that are current in the US everyday, alright, and look at that. That’s 2016 data. That’s not old data, and that shortages are jacking up the prices of drugs, Look at the cost of Doxycycline. That’s tetracycline, boys and girls. It used to cost $20 for 500 pills at the bulk rate. Now it costs $1829. Valproate, an old drug for epilepsy. Kids use it, used to cost $31 at bulk rate for 80 pills. Now it’s $234. Look at Isoproterenol. That’s a heart drug. $916 for 25 vials. $4500, and the beat goes on, in fact the average price of generic medication’s gone up 33% in the last 4 years. Up. Should be going down. Why is it not going down? Easy.
They are being made in India and China, and a little bit in Israel. They don’t give a rats ass about our economy, so they’re just going try to squeeze the dollars as they can. So, the easiest thing to do is, screw you, I’m make it myself. Right?
And, then you have these assholes. Look. Right? I mean, this guy, don’t you want to punch him in the face? Don’t you just want to go out and punch him in the face? But, what you don’t see is that Daraprim, which is the therapy for toxoplasmosis that effects primarily HIV patients and cancer patients is, yes, that will cost $13.50. He bought the company. The very next day, he jacked up to $750 a pill. Oh, Hillary Clinton went after him. Congress had all these things on him. They put him in jail for another reason. Blah. Blah. Blah. How much do you think Daraprim cost per day? Right now? Today? After all that? $750 a pill.
And then this young lady over here has EpiPens and she jacked the price up to $600 and her daddy, the US senator, is going make doggone sure that nothing is going happen to them. So, the answer is not maleficence. The answer is, we got to change the model, so I think that are army base model can in fact actually help the civilian sector, and that’s a good thing. Alright.
Sometimes, our goals overlap. I need my soldiers to be a 100% warfighter operational ready at all times, but you want a healthy civilian workforce. So, my world is on the left. My airborne troops, my submarines, my special forces teams, they can’t afford to have people get sick. Worse, you can imagine, if I have a Trident submarine, which is what you’re looking at right now, that when you button them up and send them out to sea, they stay underwater for nine months. They do not surface. A submarine on the surface is a target. A submarine under the sea is a weapon.
The Tridents carry 24 nuclear ballistic missiles. By the way, Kim Jong Un should be very happy cause he’s got a bunch of those sitting off his coast right now. Those guys, if there’s one guy that has the flu, when you button up the hatch, you know what that means, and in fact, there was a time, during the H1N1 crisis, a sailor did get sick, and a Fast Attack had to come back in, because he infected the entire crew. Alright, so that’s a bad thing.
So, we said to ourselves, we don’t want, like that, these containment wards back in World War One from Spanish influenza, so we said to ourselves, if we accept that we believe that illness, I don’t care what illness you have, it may be cardiovascular disease, it may be oncological disease, I don’t care what it is, but let’s say infectious diseases begin at the cellular level. You get infected, you change at the cellular level, and it takes a couple days. The thing blossoms, or a couple of years if it’s like a cancer, and it blossoms, and you have symptoms, and once you have symptoms, you are now sick. You are now sick.
Wouldn’t it be better to redefine sick as when your cellular mechanisms are starting to break down. Right? Wouldn’t it be much better, and the answer is, can you do it? The answer is yes. This is the work of Dr. Geoff Ginsburg down at Duke. He’s the head of the Genomics Institute, and he came up with this really cool idea. He says, we can measure biomarkers, [inaudible 00:22:56] does, but more important is the mathematics.
It’s a predictive mathematics, and so, Duke, as you know has the computation core facility there, and so they came up with this remarkable algorithm, and I just don’t have time to go over it with you, but we’ll just say it’s [inaudible 00:23:12], and he’s able to dump a bunch of the biomarker data, churn through it, and what he found was, he found if he did a study where he purposely infected people with a virus, and he chose H1N1 Brisbane, RSV, H3N2, and a couple of others, and he purposefully infected them, they’re some who are going get sick and some not. Right?
I mean, you get coughed in your face, some people fight it off and others don’t. He was able to determine that if, oh [soops 00:23:38], if they had the markers on the right hand big box, they were going get sick. Even better, if they had any of the markers on the left hand, he could classify what they got sick of without knowing. It’s a very specific response, so that’s cool. You would say, that’s really cool.
And, in fact, how cool is it, is that if you say, at T is when symptoms appear, and .1 T is a tenth of the way in the incubation period, he had 80% to 90% positive predicative value in terms of determining who would ultimately become sick. Remember, they look fine. They just got infected, but they look fine. He could tell with 90% certainty who would get sick and who would not, and when he was at .8 T, which is like a couple of days before symptom manifestation, he was at 100%, before, and then what’s cool is this.
He said if I give everybody the flu, H1N1 Brisbane, please, not Swine, and H1N1, and they had positive markers for impending illness, that they had that signaler, I’m going get sick, and I treat them with a single dose of Tamiflu, when it is time they should be sick, none of them got sick. Why? Cause the viral load is so low that he was able to wipe it out.
If they were marker positive, and he gave them placebo, 100% of them got sick, and if they’re marker negative and he gave them placebo, they were healthy. So, clearly shows that not only could do this, but wouldn’t it be cool to cure disease before you get it? Wouldn’t it be cool to know your pancreatic cancer and cure it before you actually got it. Wouldn’t it be cool to know that you had critical stenosis or [arthroscopic 00:25:10] stenosis and you were able to cure it before they got sick. That’s the point. Who wants to get sick?
And, sometimes we can do something really hard, and I got to go through this quick, is that, this was my toughest program. So, one of the things I had when I was … I don’t have my picture there. Too bad. When I was in Afghanistan, there was not a single day went by that I didn’t have a little kid missing a limb come to us. We were the only level one trauma center in the whole stinking country, and of course, American soldiers being who they are, when they come across a kid whose been injured by a Russian landmine, and that’s how they all got hurt, missing a hand, missing an arm, they call for a medevac, the helicopter brings them to us.
So, there wasn’t a single day in my first combat tour that I did not see a kid without missing a limb, and missing an arm in that part of the world is a death sentence. You will never survive. You will never survive. So, when you think about it, you say to yourself, oh my god, wouldn’t it be great if we could come up with a cheaper prostetic arm. You see that arm over there? And, you look at that arm and you go, like, it’s pretty functional. You can scratch your head with it. You can pick your nose with it. Maybe you can feed yourself with a spoon, but, you know, first of all, it’s ugly as sin, and second of all, it’s not that function.
I mean, people say it’s functional, but it’s not that functional. I mean, look at that thing. Could you imagine if that was your arm and you woke up in the morning and you had to go to the bathroom, you know, take care of your business, and you know, next thing you know, you see my friend Bill [Horoda 00:26:26], proctologist to get some care. You know, because that won’t do. So, instead, you say to yourself, let’s reword this question. Let’s go back to what we said, not what’s probable, not what’s possible, but what you really want.
And, would you know what you really want? You want an arm like Luke Skywalker’s got. You want an arm like Detective Del Spooner, hell you want Detective Del Spooner. I want to look like Detective Del Spooner, you know, but that’s what you want. And, how do you get from the left side to the right side. Simple. You got to go away from this idea of using peripheral control and going to brain control, cause how do you control your arm? You think about moving your arm, and your arm moves. So, you got to go to brain control, and so, we said, let’s do it. Let’s do it. Let’s do it. Came back home, said we got to do something. We got to change this whole paradigm. Let’s do it.
First things first, can we show that we can tap into the brain and decode the signals enough that we can actually get the arm to run? You know? Can you actually decode? The answer is, the brain works on electrical signals, right? That’s what it does. The brain works electrically, and if you think about it, if the brain works electrically, and sending electric signals to give a signal to do something, let’s say move the arm up, down, left or right, or whatever. That’s a code, isn’t it?
Shoot. I’m from the US Army. I got tons of codebreakers. So went ahead and married up a group of codebreakers with some really brilliant neuroscientists, Miguel Nicolelis down at Duke, who had electrodes into the monkeys, and real quick, he taught monkeys how to play a pong game, so they’re working their arms, and they’re playing a pong game, and he was measuring electrical signals the whole way. They decoded it. They decoded it. They knew when the monkey was thinking, well, go up, down, left or right. They knew it. So good that when Miguel disconnected the joystick, and it was a dead joystick, and the monkey’s playing with the dead joystick, he’s still able to play his game because a computer’s reading his brain and moving the cursor for him.
And, even better, when he took away the joystick, the monkey sitting there, looking at this thing, starts thinking about, geez, if I had my joystick. I’d play my game, and all a sudden he sees the dot moving, he starts to run the whole thing by just using his brain. It was really cool. Miguel, by the way, was a 2012 Nobel Symposium speaker, so we’re hoping he gets the prize.
So, then you say to yourself, who cares about that, can you actually run an arm. Go ahead and play this video and I asked Andy Schwartz to use that whole thing and see if this monkey can control this robot arm just by using thought, and the answer is yes. So, the computer is reading his mind, going through all the things, and he’s feeding himself. Notice how he’s not shoving the zucchini up his nose, cramming it into his ears. He’s actually sticking in his mouth. Alright. The point was, we knew he could do it. By the way, this research? Using the technology, the approach I told you about, two years from idea to that. Two years. Two years.
So, Geoff joins DARPA right after he comes back from Afghanistan. They sent him back to Iraq for a year, but we won’t talk about that, so when I came back, this was all done. My team had done it, cause I was in Iraq. They didn’t need me. They did it themselves, so when I came back, I said, cool, let’s go. Now, let’s build a real robot arm for people, and that’s in fact what we did. We said in two years, we’ll build the robot arm, and in another two years, we’ll get it into people, and that’s what in fact we did. Quite a lot of some engineering stuff.
I’m not going through this, but the end of the day is, here’s the robot arm, go ahead and click that video, and in fact, you can see Chuck right now, and he just put it on and started to move it. Now, who built this robot arm you would ask? DEKA, Dean Kamen’s guys. The guys who invented the Segway, alright, so you notice that arm, when he turns, it turns. When he learns forward it goes out, it comes back, they’re handing it off. It’s modular, so if you’re missing an elbow, below the elbow, you get that, if you’re missing the whole arm you get that ,cause Randy has a full arm, Chuck in the green shirt has a half an arm, but you can see they’re handing off, see there, it looks very natural doesn’t it. Pouring water, you know. Doing real great.
I would love to show you the whole video, but I’m running out of time. I’m standing between you and the wine train so we’ll do that. He was picking up a grape by the way. So, that gives you an idea of the dexterity that he has.
But, then we said, the whole idea is going to the brain. Can you actually get in the brain of a patient, really implant it in the brain. So, here, go ahead and play this video. You’ll see Tim, he’s a high quad. He’s kind of like Christopher Reeve, and he can’t move anything, but he hooked his brain directly up to the robot arm, and he’s controlling the arm. All we ask him to do is up, down, left, right.
Geoffrey Ling: The computer said go up, and you can see, he was able to push the arm straight up. Now, this is the first time, we actually did this. What I asked the investigators do is, we hooked him up. I said, get a video camera going, because we flip the switch on, either his head was going burst into fire, which would make a cool YouTube video, or the thing would work, and we got it to work. Alright?
Speaker 5: Nice.
Speaker 6: There you go.
Speaker 5: Yeah.
Geoffrey Ling: So, naturally, they broke script.
Speaker 6: That’s nice.
Geoffrey Ling: He high fived his investigator, and this is really cool. Katie, his girlfriend …
Katie: Aw, baby.
Geoffrey Ling: Incredible emotional, and she called it his arm. It’s not his arm.
Geoffrey Ling: I mean, that arm is hanging on the side of a rail, but it’s the way he’s interacting with it, I think. So, you say, that’s pretty cool, but that looks really [cludgy 00:32:04] doesn’t it? Really cludgy. Now, I would say this to investors, I said, I get it. It’s cludgy. It looks cludgy, but if you were standing at the base of Kill Devil Hill in 1903, and you watch two knuckleheads from Dayton, Ohio, bicycle guys, right, bicycle guys, are going fly an airplane, right, they’re going fly an airplane. That’s why I said, don’t always laugh at everybody, and those two suckers shoved this thing off, and you’re like, whoa, that thing flew for eight seconds. Flyer flew for eight seconds.
Right? And you’re staying down there, going like, would you say, what the heck, eight lousy seconds. Let’s go home and get something to eat, or, would say, oh wow. They did it. They did it. 3,000 years of mankind been trying to get this thing going and these two knuckleheads from Dayton did it. I’m going go like invest in them. I’m going like [voss 00:32:51] them. We say to ourselves, which are we? Which are we, and that’s why I was telling my PM’s, don’t throw anybody out. Here what they have to say, then throw them out, but then you say to yourself, look at the rate of progress of air travel.
1903 was pretty cool, but what were airplanes like in 1915, which was the dawn of the first World War. That’s just 12 years later. What were airplanes like 33 years after 1903, which is 1936, which is the dawn of World War 2, what were airplanes like then? They’re pretty doggone good. Right, and what were airplanes like in 1966 … No, I mean, 66 years after, 1969, Neil Armstrong walks on the moon. 66 years after the Wright Brothers flew. 66 years. That’s nothing. Nothing. Let me show you what happens 7 months after showing this. Go ahead and click that. This seven months later.
Speaker 8: [inaudible 00:33:47] up and straight down, then left and right and diagonally. I can close it and open it, and I can go forward and back.
Speaker 9: That is just the most astounding thing I’ve seen. Can we shake hands?
Speaker 8: Sure.
Speaker 9: No, really.
Geoffrey Ling: Seven months.
Speaker 8: Yeah.
Geoffrey Ling: We went from this.
Speaker 9: Come right over here?
Speaker 8: Yes, you come over there.
Speaker 9: Okay.
Speaker 8: Let me grasp your hand. There we go.
Speaker 9: Oh my goodness. Wow.
Speaker 8: And, I can do a fist bump, if you’d like.
Speaker 9: That’s amazing.
Geoffrey Ling: Yeah, it is. Isn’t it. That’s really is amazing, but you say to yourself, Geoff, so what? You’re running a robot arm. That’s cool. It helps only a handful of patients, I would never invest in that. Really? You would never invest in that? Take a look at this. Take a look at this. Same technology, going to the next … Oh, sorry. Go and click this. I want you to take a look at this patient. He’s asked to use one of those little child toys. I want you to look at this.
Speaker 10: Like the one I made was pretty strange.
Geoffrey Ling: Did you see what he did? See what he did? You saw it. Roberta saw it. He turned his hand the wrong way. Why did he turn his hand the wrong way? Cause he could. Cause he could.
Speaker 10: [crosstalk 00:35:06]
Geoffrey Ling: What do you think we found the monkeys were doing? Okay you can shut it off. One thing we found that the monkeys were doing was that … We didn’t cut off any monkey’s arm, so I don’t want to hear from PETA, so the whole idea was, as the monkey would reach out, grab the zucchini with the robot arm, but what did he do with his good arm? We had restrained it, so it wouldn’t get in the way. We saw that within a couple of days, the monkeys, like when you patch a kid’s eye, the monkeys learned how to try to get at the machine with his other arm, he’s reaching around for the zucchini with his robot arm, and he’s trying to get out of his restraint with his native arm. He learnt how to use three arms, learnt how to use three arms, so come back to this.
You looking at Geoff, you’re going, what a stupid thing, right? Well, I tell you what, what it does is, if you can get direct brain out, so the way we drive, the way we fly airplanes, is brain to hand, hand to controller, controller to ailerons, and you fly your airplane. Bypass that whole thing. Bypass that whole thing. Can you do it? Well, yeah. So, this is that lady on 60 minutes. Never flew an airplane in her life. We hooked her up to a flight simulator. Go ahead and click that, and what you’ll see, she gets level flight immediately. Immediately.
Why? Cause she’s thinking about not working the stick and all this stuff. She’s thinking about I’m flying. I want to go left. It was so good we sped it up 8 times and said fly through the Grand Canyon, and so she does, remember, never had a flight lesson in her life. Then, we put her in the F22 Joint Strike Fighter, and yes, it looks kludgy, that’s a damn difficult airplane to fly, but, look at that, she has level flight. She can climb. She can dive, and she’s not crashing.
So, at the end of the day, this technology isn’t about running an arm. This technology is about running the world around you, that if in fact you can go and get these signals out, now you know where they are. Think about what you could do. The internet was cool. Look what it became. I think this is cool, and look what it will become. So, now I spun out a company, now that I’m out of the government, and we got all the IP to signaling and all that, because in the end of the day, I think this is the next step for mankind.
If [inaudible 00:37:23] can liberate you from your bodies, think what you can do, so at the end of the day, I run out of time, I’m going shut up. I just want to say, it’s about what we want, not settling for what we can have. That’s number one. Number two is, resourcing the innovator, the geniuses out there is more than just giving them cash and hoping they succeed. It’s really get in there with them, help them, because at the end of the day, we want them to succeed, because if they succeed, we succeed. Thank you.
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