07 February 2012

Militaries Look at Neuroscience and Cognitive Enhancement

The militaries of the advanced world, in anticipation of the inevitable future war or conflict, are constantly looking for ways to give their forces an advantage on the field (or sea) of battle. The Royal Society has recently released a report on the use of neuroscience to enhance military performance, and to subdue opposing forces.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS)/Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
These technologies transiently disrupt or enhance brain function through brain stimulation. TMS induces weak electrical currents in the brain using a rapidly changing magnetic field; it is administered by placing a coil of wire, with current passing through, close to the scalp. tDCS passes weak electrical currents through the skull by attaching electrodes directly to the scalp.

Because TMS and tDCS can suppress as well as stimulate neural activity they are powerful tools to complement neuroimaging as they can be used to investigate whether activity of neurons in a particular brain region is necessary or causal for a particular function. If transient simulation impairs a particular mental process one can infer that the area is necessary.

Additionally, the timing of mental processes can also be investigated with these techniques, by showing if stimulation at only one particular time during a process is effective at causing disruption. Enhancement of brain activity in terms of driving brain plasticity via tDCS approaches is in its infancy but growing rapidly within the neuroscience community _Royal Society PDF Download: Neuroscience Conflict Security Brain Waves
Modern militaries cannot ignore the pivotal role of the mind in military conflict. Further, militaries cannot assume that their adversaries in future conflicts will ignore the central role of neuroscience. In other words, military planners must consider both offensive and defensive uses of neuroscience for future wars.

In terms of cognitive enhancement for soldiers, seamen, and marines, militaries have been looking at a number of key issues. First, they want to start with cognitively competent, resilient, and flexible warriors. In addition, they want to be able to train these fighters to the optimum levels possible, for their specific range of tasks. Finally, they want to develop better ways to repair and rehabilitate service members who have been wounded and injured.
Some techniques used widely in neuroscience are on the brink of being adopted by the military to improve the training of soldiers, pilots and other personnel.

A growing body of research suggests that passing weak electrical signals through the skull, using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), can improve people's performance in some tasks.

One study cited by the report described how US neuroscientists employed tDCS to improve people's ability to spot roadside bombs, snipers and other hidden threats in a virtual reality training programme used by US troops bound for the Middle East.

"Those who had tDCS learned to spot the targets much quicker," said Vince Clark, a cognitive neuroscientist and lead author on the study at the University of New Mexico. "Their accuracy increased twice as fast as those who had minimal brain stimulation. I was shocked that the effect was so large."

Clark, whose wider research on tDCS could lead to radical therapies for those with dementia, psychiatric disorders and learning difficulties, admits to a tension in knowing that neuroscience will be used by the military.

"As a scientist I dislike that someone might be hurt by my work. I want to reduce suffering, to make the world a better place, but there are people in the world with different intentions, and I don't know how to deal with that.

"If I stop my work, the people who might be helped won't be helped. Almost any technology has a defence application."

Research with tDCS is in its infancy, but work so far suggests it might help people by boosting their attention and memory. According to the Royal Society report, when used with brain imaging systems, tDCS "may prove to be the much sought-after tool to enhance learning in a military context".

One of the report's most striking scenarios involves the use of devices called brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) to connect people's brains directly to military technology, including drones and other weapons systems.

The work builds on research that has enabled people to control cursors and artificial limbs through BMIs that read their brain signals.

"Since the human brain can process images, such as targets, much faster than the subject is consciously aware of, a neurally interfaced weapons system could provide significant advantages over other system control methods in terms of speed and accuracy," the report states. _Guardian

Building a homemade tDCS system

Should brain enhancement choices be left to governments and elite overlords?

Turning every brain into Spock's brain

Waiting for superbrain?

Cognitive enhancers

The Royal Society report discusses ways of screening potential recruits which amount to advanced, high tech IQ tests, which are essentially bias-free and culture independent. You will not hear very much in the news about this aspect of cognitive and neuroscience research, but for an elite military, being able to select the best of the best -- for your purposes -- is paramount. Advanced cognitive and brain-machine training is the icing on the cake, for future oriented strategists and tacticians.

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Blogger kurt9 said...

I spent some time on the internet looking at tDCS. Its interesting and looks promising. Its certainly cheap and doable in the DIY sense, and I really like that.

However, I'm concerned about the possibility of brain damage if done improperly. I think I will watch others try this for a few years before I make my own gizmo and try it myself.

Tuesday, 07 February, 2012  
Blogger al fin said...

I was thinking that instead of using a 9 volt battery, I might try one of those heavy duty batteries used to drive locomotives instead. I feel that I may be able to get more amps that way.


Tuesday, 07 February, 2012  

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