As discoveries in neuroscience develop far in excess of anything we thought possible until recently. But is traversing the body mind barrier destined to be the salvation of millions of those afflicted with mental disease? Or will it become the next arms race? And is the field at its current state even an applicable outlet for military forces at this juncture?
There have been several developments in recent history that could serve as tools in the treatment of several illnesses. A new technology from the Imperial College of London allowed students to control a pong game using only their eyes, allowing a wide range of disabled persons an opportunity to interface with computers. But soon after came the question, what are the potential military applications? Could pilots control more than merely a pong game with eye movements, such as rapidly accessing sensor data and freeing up hands for use in controlling aircraft. And with DARPA breaking on to the scene, there is even more interest in military applications of the mind beyond a tool for simply coming up with ideas and controlling the body to take down targets. DARPA was the research installation which created the internet, and as such is thought more than capable of great applications in fields both within the military and the civilian sectors.
But is it too early to begin tapping neuroscience research in the hopes of creating tomorrow’s super-soldier? Applications that have been cited include giving soldiers the ability to function for long periods of time without sleep, and bypassing any negative degenerative effects that could inhibit combat capability. The Pentagon received in 2008 a paper entitled “Human Performance” from a group known as JASON which showed research being conducted in the field of neuroscience, and the potential applications already being implemented in the field of “sleep reduction” through chemical means. Long periods of sleep deprivation have been responsible for years of inhibiting a force’s ability to defend itself. This was one of the driving forces behind General George Patton’s aggressive tactics of not wasting time in order to maximize the effectiveness of his own troops and the fatigue that eventually set in on forces they were pursuing. And the JASON paper clearly states that the use of drugs to ensure maximal performance over a long period of time will not only increase combat effectiveness, but will be justified by saving the lives of troops taking the pills. To this day neuroscientists are disturbed by the implications of the paper, as it decreed that the neuroscience arms-race had entered the mainstream.
It also, however, said that the potential application for sensory augmentation was likely more in the realm of science fiction than hard science. At least that’s what it said in 2008. The response in the military research community has been the application of more imagination in projects. And with this imagination has come several ideas. And now with machines that can use FMRI scanners to read images from the minds of applicants, the race has not only begun, but it looks as though it will be a long one.