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US Army developing technology that could let soldiers read people’s minds

The Independent logo The Independent 27/11/2020 Adam Smith
a person in a military uniform © Provided by The Independent

Soldiers in the future may be able to communicate with their colleagues telepathically, following new research about decoding signals from the brain.

The findings, funded by the US Army Research Office over the next five years, managed to separate brain signals that influence behaviour from other signals that do not.

Brain activity related to directing motion and other behaviour-relevant signals could be filtered out from other activity using an algorithm.

“Here we’re not only measuring signals, but we’re interpreting them,” said Hamid Krim, a program manager for the Army Research Office, told C4ISRNET.

Eventually, researchers want the technology to reach a point where it can provide feedback directly to the brain in order for them to change their actions quickly in time-sensitive scenarios.

This could include stress and fatigue signals that the brain gives out before a person realizes they are tired, and could eventually develop to silent communication.

Researchers could eventually allow the brain to communicate with computers and send signals to other soldiers.

“In a theater, you can have two people talking to each other without... even whispering a word,” Mr Krim said.

“So you and I are out there in the theater and we have to... talk about something that we’re confronting. I basically talked to my computer — your computer can be in your pocket, it can be your mobile phone or whatever — and that computer talks to... your teammate’s computer. And then his or her computer is going to talk to your teammate.”

In the experiments, researchers from the University of Southern California, who partnered with Duke and New York University, as well as Essex, Oxford and Imperial College universities in the UK, monitored the actions of a monkey reaching for a ball to separate motion brain signals from other activity. They are now looking to identify other signals, outside of motion.

“You can read anything you want; doesn’t mean that you understand it,” Mr Krim said. “The next step after that is to be able to understand it. The next step after that is to break it down into into words so that... you can synthesize in a sense, like you learn your vocabulary and your alphabet, then you are able to compose.

“At the end of the day, that is the original intent mainly: to have the computer actually being in a full duplex communication mode with the brain.”

The development of human-brain interfaces is a long-running development in the technology industry. Most recently, Elon Musk demonstrated a working brain-computer interface that he hopes will allow "human-AI symbiosis" from his startup Neuralink. 

Unlike a prototype version displayed during Neuralink's 2019 event, the latest iteration is completely wireless and charges using induction. Musk also said that the device could be used to treat conditions like stress and anxiety.

However, much like the US military’s research, Neuralink will likely have difficulty reading and writing the brain’s activity. The neurological basis for emotional conditions is still not completely understood by scientists, and training the brain to perform simple tasks through a computer-linked interface takes training.

Any sort of machine-human interface that could be used in a combat scenario is decades away, Mr Krim added.

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