For better or worse (probably worse), much of the world’s top brain power and research funding goes towards building war machines and military technology. For years, the United States’ own Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been testing the waters for how viable automated killer robot soldiers might be.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has also been researching ways to augment its human soldiers, whether through powered exoskeletons, so-called “synthetic telepathy,” or even battlefield-ready brain-computer interfaces. Now, U.S. military scientists at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base have taken the creation of technologically-augmented supersoldiers a step closer to reality with a new study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience which claims to have successfully enhanced soldiers’ brains through cybernetic stimulation.
According to their recently published data, Air Force scientists were able to improve the information processing abilities of military personnel test subjects through applying low-voltage electrical pulses to certain areas of the brain, a technique known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS):
The findings provided new evidence that tDCS has the ability to augment and enhance multitasking capability in a human operator. Future research should be conducted to determine the longevity of the enhancement of transcranial direct current stimulation on multitasking performance.
The article later states that aside from providing increased ability to process information and multitask, this brain-enhancing technology could lead to soldiers who rarely need sleep:
In addition to improvements in sustained attention, the applied tDCS montage has been previously shown to induce increased arousal and wakefulness during 30 or 36 hours of sleep deprivation.
While these findings might be good news to dead-eyed, cold-hearted military strategists, opinion is shall we say…mixed on these technologies. As Gizmodo puts it, “the results of the test are exciting. Unless you’re a farmer somewhere in the Middle East, of course.”
Many domestic and foreign news outlets are already voicing concerns that these technologies might soon be forced upon armed forces personnel without their consent, or that civilians might attempt to construct tDCS kits themselves. However, these fears are probably too little too late: several consumer kits are already for sale online, and entire communities of users are sharing videos of their results on YouTube. Sometimes the future sneaks up on you.