Researchers found the Armed Forces could harness the rapid advance of neuroscience to improve the training of soldiers, pilots and other personnel.
A study, from the Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of science, showed the possible benefits of neuroscience to military and law enforcement. It predicted new designer drugs that boost performance, make enemy troops fall asleep and ensure captives become more talkative. But among the more remarkable scenarios suggested in the report involved the use of devices called brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) to connect soldiers’ brains directly to military technology such as drones and weapons.
The study, published on Tuesday, stated that the work built on previous research that has enabled people to control cursors and artificial limbs through BMIs that read their brain signals. In their report, one of a series from the Royal Society looking at the field of neuroscience, the experts call on the UK Government to be as “transparent as possible” about research into military and law enforcement applications.
“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.
The report also showed how neuroscientists employed so-called “transcranial direct current stimulation” (tDCS) to improve soldiers’ awareness while in hostile environments. It showed how soldiers’ ability to spot roadside bombs, snipers and other hidden threats were improved in a virtual reality training program used by US troops bound for the Middle East
But the report’s authors argued that while hostile uses of neuroscience and related technologies were now more likely, scientists were oblivious to its potentials. While the benefits to society were obvious, through improved treatments for brain disease and mental illness, there were serious security implications to consider.
“Neuroscience will have more of an impact in the future,” said Prof Rod Flower, chair of the report’s working group. “People can see a lot of possibilities, but so far very few have made their way through to actual use. All leaps forward start out this way.”