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Future wars may be waged with mind-controlled weaponry, Royal Society warns

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February 7, 2012

A report published by the Royal Society warns the neuroscience community to be aware of th...

A report published by the Royal Society warns the neuroscience community to be aware of the military ramifications of its research, including the potential for mind-controlled weaponry (Image: Patrick Hoesly)

Neuroscience has ramifications for future warfare, and the scientific community must be more aware. So says a report published today by the Royal Society titled Neuroscience, conflict and security, which cites interest in neuroscience from the military community, and identifies particular technologies that may arise. Among them is the potential for "neural interface systems" (NIS) to bring about weapons controllable by the human mind, though the reports also discusses more benign military applications of neuroscience, such as fostering a revolution in prosthetic limbs.

Brain-controlled technology

The report distinguishes between two types of neural interface: those that "input into" the brain's neural systems, and those that monitor neural activity to predict "motor intentions" - outcomes of thought processes, essentially. Specific NIS technologies mentioned by the report include both EEG and electronic implants, citing the success of BrainGate in allowing paralyzed patients to control the motion of an on-screen cursor by "simply imagining this motion."

"NIS such as BrainGate could also be used to allow long-range control of motion," the report finds. "Electrode arrays implanted in the nervous system could provide a connection between the nervous system of an able-bodied individual and a specific hardware or software system. Since the human brain can process images, such as targets, much faster than the subject is consciously aware of, a neurally interfaced weapons systems could provide significant advantages over other system control methods in terms of speed and accuracy."

Sensing the battlefield

The report also discusses the sensory potential of NIS technology. Infrared or sonar sensors connected to magnetic implants on the human body could allow combatants and law enforcers to effectively feel the heat or proximity of an object. On these points and others, the report highlights not only technological possibilities, but also that ethical and legal questions that surround them.

Military interest

The report highlights a wealth of current search and available funding from various US and UK government agencies into neuroscience applications. DARPA is funding programs seeking to enhance human performance under stress, and neural-controlled prosthetics. The US Air Force 711th Human Performance Wing invites research into alertness management, as well as the identification of "human-borne threats" and individuals resistant to "stressors and countermeasures on cognitive performance and physiological stamina." Meanwhile the UK Ministry of Defence has launched a national PhD which includes bio-electronics integration, synthetic synaesthesia and exploiting the subconscious.

By identifying active military research into neuroscience, the Royal Society paints a future of warfare influenced by neuroscience applications as a very real possibility. As well as neuroscience's massive potential for benign medical applications, the Royal Society is seeking to raise awareness among the scientific community of "hostile" applications.

Recommendations

"Studies suggest that the great majority of scientists have little to no knowledge of their obligations under these treaties, nor a wide awareness of the potential malign applications of their research," the report concludes, before recommending that the UK government should strengthen communications with industry and academia to "scope for significant future trends and threats posed by the applications of neuroscience."

The full report and its set of recommendations is available from the Royal Society website. Report chair, Professor Rod Flower FRS, summarizes the report in the following video.

Source: Royal Society via the Guardian

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life.   All articles by James Holloway
9 Comments

one step closer to my own Valkyrie mecha

Nacho Lotitto
7th February, 2012 @ 08:13 am PST

"Future wars may be waged with mind-controlled weaponry, Royal Society warns"

lol, past wars have already been waged with mind-control, they are called holy wars, religion, media propaganda, etc....

tampa florida
7th February, 2012 @ 09:05 am PST

@tampa florida: So very true! It's really sad that so many never catch on to the bigger picture.

Electrothump
7th February, 2012 @ 10:43 am PST

In the field of war there is always the temptation to try things just because it is possible- ethical considerations always seem to be an afterthought.

Carlos Grados
7th February, 2012 @ 05:08 pm PST

Those wearing tin foil hats maybe just a little ahead of there time, and may not be considered so crazy in the near future, get your tinfoil hat now before the rush.

katgod
7th February, 2012 @ 07:02 pm PST

How about testing it out on your unruly kids first!

donwine
8th February, 2012 @ 08:39 am PST

But where is tin foil even available? It's all aluminum nowadays, which has a whole different set of properties, 'cept of course for the shiny part. We're doomed.

Bruce H. Anderson
8th February, 2012 @ 09:18 am PST

Those who already have it, are now concerned about others getting it.

Dawar Saify
17th February, 2012 @ 04:59 pm PST

@Tampa. the soldier's mind controls the weapon, controlling the mind is in a completley different section I am glad to say

werewolf435
9th March, 2012 @ 07:57 pm PST
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