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.
The wide-ranging document reportedly covers a lot of ground, including the ethical issues surrounding the use of neuroscience in defense. It seems to focus less on ways to impact the enemy directly, and more on the enhancement of soldiers’ fighting abilities–though neurological drugs that make enemy captives more talkative or perhaps cause enemy troops fall asleep or become disoriented also get a mention.
Of particular interest in the document: transcranial direct current stimulation, or tDCS. The idea of passing electrical signals through the skull to the brain to boost performance isn’t new to U.S. defense dreamers, as the U.S. military has already done tests on the technology (and found it helpful in improving soldiers’ abilities to detect threats). A battle helmet that can pass weak electrical pulses through the brain could sharpen a soldier’s mind, the report suggests, upping attention spans and memory as well as attention to detail.
Similarly, electroencephalogram (EEG) could work to turn the human brain into a more efficient tool, although in a somewhat backwards fashion from tDCS. Using an array of electrodes, EEG can record brainwaves through the skull, detecting things that may not be conscious but that the brain nonetheless registers. For instance, the report cites DARPA research in which subjects looking at satellite photos were monitored with EEG. Even when the subjects missed some of the targets they were looking for in the images, the brain detected them, and that was evident in their brain waves even though it was never converted to conscious thought.
Such tools could also be used to screen recruits and identify certain mental traits, helping fighting forces more efficiently organize their ranks into fast learners, decision-makers, peacekeepers, and hardened, battle-ready special ops types. But none of these ideas is as far-out as using brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) to plug soldiers’ brains directly into weapons systems.
This is based on the same kind of research that has shown that disabled individuals can move prostheses with nerve signals from the brain, but in this context such BMI technology would be used to plug the fast processing power of the brain into drone technology and other weapons technologies for faster target identification and, presumably, termination. Let’s hope the soldiers mind-melding with the killer drones aced their EEG decision-making exams.