The United States military has revealed their plans to hack the brains of their soldiers to enhance their cognitive abilities, meaning what they could normally learn in weeks, they could learn in a matter of hours.
Under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT), which was first announced in 2015, has now begun.
TNT will include using electrical stimulation on the body's peripheral nervous system to activate "synaptic plasticity," -- the ability of synapses to strengthen or weaken over time. By activating this natural brain process, it is hoped that the learning process will be accelerated.
On its latest announcement, DARPA revealed it is funding eight separate research efforts to determine if the stimulation can safely be used.
"DARPA is approaching the study of synaptic plasticity from multiple angles to determine whether there are safe and responsible ways to enhance learning and accelerate training for skills relevant to national security missions," said Doug Weber, the TNT Program Manager.
DARPA has awarded $5.8 billion to a team of researchers at the University of Texas' Biomedical Device Center to carry researches related to TNT. Teams at Arizona State University, John Hopkins University, the University of Florida, the University of Maryland, the University of Wisconsin and Wright State University were also awarded contracts.
Stat News reported that most of the teams in the study are looking at the vagus nerve, the longest of the cranial nerves that connect nerves from the neck to the brain and down to the visceral organs.
The report added that previous experiments have shown that electric shocks directly at vagus nerve are helpful in treating depression and epilepsy. The researchers at looking at non-invasive process to stimulate the vagus nerve.
Researchers will conduct studies on animals and human volunteers to find out whether the technique can help in the decision-making and spatial navigation, speech perception, and threat recognition, Daily Mail noted.
The program is expected to run for four years, and DARPA aims to achieve at least a 30 percent improvement in learning rate and/or skill performance with minimal side effects.
In response to possible ethical matters, the TNT program is funding Arizona State University to host a national ethics workshop within the first year of the program.
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