A group of forward-thinking military scientists want to plug soldiers’ weapons directly into their brains, and this time DARPA is nowhere to be found. The Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of scientific thought, issued a report today on the applications of neuroscience in the military and law enforcement contexts. Discussed therein: new performance-enhancing designer drugs, brain stimulation to boost brain function, and weapons systems that plug directly into the brain.
Studying mental illnesses involves complex brain-monitoring technology to watch how neurons and large-scale brain components are functioning or malfunctioning. But researchers are increasingly getting out of their patients’ heads, monitoring brain cells in petri dishes instead. This is possible with stem cells, and it could yield plenty of new avenues for psychiatric research.
When it comes to studying human consciousness, techniques can range from the objectively scientific to the pseudo-scientific to the very abstract. After all, the complex processes happening inside the human brain are very hard to observe and define.
Brain-machine interfaces hold potential for a variety of ends, from helping the neurologically or physically disabled communicate and interact with their environments, to creating thought-controlled computers that augment the brain with computing power. A group of researchers at Columbia are turning that model on its ear, using brain power to augment computing tasks. Their device couples the human brain and computers to perform tasks neither could do as efficiently on their own.
DARPA has been trying to crawl inside the minds of soldiers for a while now, but a new ultrasound technology could let them get deeper inside than ever. Working under a DARPA grant, a researcher at Arizona State is developing transcranial pulsed ultrasound technology that could be implanted in troops’ battle helmets, allowing soldiers to manipulate brain functions to boost alertness, relieve stress, or even reduce the effects of traumatic brain injury.
In an effort to unlock the speech capacity in patients who cannot speak because of so-called “locked-in syndrome,” University of Utah researchers have successfully demonstrated that they can translate brain signals into words using electrode grids placed beneath the skull. Sort of.
Researchers at IBM have created the most complex neurological map ever seen, detailing the comprehensive long-distance network that makes up the macaque monkey brain in unprecedented detail. Such a roadmap through the brain's complex networking processes could have major implications for attempts at reverse-engineering neural networks and creating cognitive computer chips that "think" as powerfully and efficiently as the biological brain.
MRI scans are already being used to explain current behavior by mapping blood flow to certain brain regions. Now researchers at UCLA think they can be used to predict your future behavior even better than you can.
Neural networks -- collections of artificial neurons or nodes set up to behave like the neurons in the brain -- can be trained to carry out a variety of tasks, often having something to do with pattern or sequence recognition. As such, they have shown great promise in image recognition systems. Now, research coming out of the University of Hong Kong has shown that neural networks can hear as well as see. A neural network there has learned the features of sound, classifying songs into specific genres with 87 percent accuracy.