Shock horror: US military sticks jump leads on human brains to teach them a lesson

DARPA's current thinking for potential future bright sparks


The boffinry nerve center of the US military is working with seven American universities to see if electrically stimulating the brain will increase the ability to learn new skills.

The Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT) program is focused on synaptic plasticity, the ability of the brain to build new neural pathways to absorb knowledge. By stimulating the nerves that connect neurons in the brain and spinal cord to organs, skin and muscles, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is hoping that the brain can be trained to learn new skills more quickly.

"The mechanisms underlying this enhancement are not well understood," said TNT program manager Dr Doug Weber on Thursday.

"But we believe that neurostimulation boosts the release of neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, norepinephrine and others that play a role in modulating cognitive processes related to learning."

DARPA

This could end badly ... DARPA's brain jolt tech

To achieve this, DARPA is going to try both non-invasive electrical stimulation and implanted devices that use electrical stimulation of peripheral nerves through the skin, and then see which one works better. The goal is to develop a device that works on skin nerves to get the brain into overdrive.

The first stage is to map out the neural pathways in the brain used for specific tasks. An Arizona State University team will work with Air Force personnel to study how the brain reacts during reconnaissance, sharpshooting, and surveillance.

Weber said that there was almost certainly no "silver bullet" to the issue, "but rather there are multiple processes involved. Thus, a primary goal of TNT is to tease apart the various mechanisms to understand the links between neurostimulation, neurotransmitter release, and resulting changes in plasticity."

The initial study into invasive and non-invasive brain stimulation devices will be carried out at Johns Hopkins University, as well as a mapping process on the brain to understand how we learn foreign languages. The goal is to turn the average squaddy into a cunning linguist far more quickly than is possible today.

Weber said that the research would be ethical and scientific. He noted that there are already so-called brain training devices on the market, but they are unproven.

"You can go online right now and for $50 buy a device that claims to stimulate your brain to do all sorts of things," he said.

Those companies "make the technology available without any assurance that it's safe or even effective. So I think [TNT is] doing a much nobler service by focusing on the underlying science so we know something about the capability we're creating." ®

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading
  • Big Tech loves talking up privacy – while trying to kill privacy legislation
    Study claims Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Microsoft work to derail data rules

    Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft often support privacy in public statements, but behind the scenes they've been working through some common organizations to weaken or kill privacy legislation in US states.

    That's according to a report this week from news non-profit The Markup, which said the corporations hire lobbyists from the same few groups and law firms to defang or drown state privacy bills.

    The report examined 31 states when state legislatures were considering privacy legislation and identified 445 lobbyists and lobbying firms working on behalf of Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, and Microsoft, along with industry groups like TechNet and the State Privacy and Security Coalition.

    Continue reading
  • SEC probes Musk for not properly disclosing Twitter stake
    Meanwhile, social network's board rejects resignation of one its directors

    America's financial watchdog is investigating whether Elon Musk adequately disclosed his purchase of Twitter shares last month, just as his bid to take over the social media company hangs in the balance. 

    A letter [PDF] from the SEC addressed to the tech billionaire said he "[did] not appear" to have filed the proper form detailing his 9.2 percent stake in Twitter "required 10 days from the date of acquisition," and asked him to provide more information. Musk's shares made him one of Twitter's largest shareholders. The letter is dated April 4, and was shared this week by the regulator.

    Musk quickly moved to try and buy the whole company outright in a deal initially worth over $44 billion. Musk sold a chunk of his shares in Tesla worth $8.4 billion and bagged another $7.14 billion from investors to help finance the $21 billion he promised to put forward for the deal. The remaining $25.5 billion bill was secured via debt financing by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, Barclays, and others. But the takeover is not going smoothly.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022