Advances in neuroscience offer the military the potential of mind-controlled weapons and performance enhancement. Are mind-controlled weapons and extra-sensory enhanced warfare techniques mere science fiction? Recent developments in neuroscience suggest not, with a new Royal Society report claiming that research in areas such as neuropharmacology, functional neuroimaging and neural interface systems could create a new breed of super soldier and diminish enemy ability.
Mind controlled weapons and aircraft
Technologies such as the BrainGate implant have already shown that machinery can be controlled with the mind alone, and games manufacturers have already brought out low-cost helmet controllers than enable wearers to play by mind power alone. The obvious application for the military is mind-controlled weaponry and remotely-piloted aircraft, which could make operation and reactions far faster.
“If you couple that with your subconscious mind being much faster at dealing with information you can see a situation sometime in the future where you’re not thinking about flying the aircraft, but your subconscious is doing it without interfering in any way,” says Flower. “You would probably have a much better appreciation of an incoming threat and fire off a couple of missiles without having to consciously think.”
Drugs to stimulate troops and disable enemies
The report also examines evidence that certain drugs can improve the performance of personnel performing certain military tasks. Among these, drugs developed to relieve the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children, such as Ritalin, have shown great promise on unaffected adults who want to focus their attention on a specific task.
“It could help when flying a long mission where you may become fatigued and your attention begins to drift off,” says Flower. “It could also help you focus when you have a lot of information to process, like being a fighter pilot in a particularly tense situation when you’re trying to get a missile lock on a target while the aircraft and radio are bombarding you with information and you have to communicate back.”
Another approach that could improve the way the brain works is known as trans-cranial electrical stimulation where electrodes attached to a 9V battery are clamped to the head. Control studies showed it can improve the rate at which things are learnt, and possibly result in better memory formation.
One controversial subject the report touches on is that of neuropsychology-inspired chemical weapons, discussing the fact that although the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) bans the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield, they are allowed for civil law-enforcement purposes.
“One of the problems is as far as anyone in our field can find, it’s not possible to find a totally safe drug that you could use,” says Flower, citing the example of the Moscow theatre siege in which 150 civilians died alongside their Chechen rebel captors.
“It’s partly because everyone’s unique and responds in different ways. If you start spraying it around you may affect children, women, men, pregnant women, old men, people taking other drugs, and people with heart disease. It won’t just be the 70kg healthy young men on which these drugs are tested.”
Flower is also keen to bust some myths about some chemicals that were reportedly tested for their effects on enemy troops.
“Oxytocin is a hormone that’s produced in pregnancy that produces a feeling of emotional closeness and trust,” says Flower. “There was a lot of talk that you may be able to use this as an interrogation tool to make your captive trust you and tell you all his secrets. But as far as we can tell that’s all nonsense.”
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