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July 31, 2011

Synthetic Telepathy: The Army's Bold Plan


Many controversies on the table for neuroscience look at the emerging role of neuroscience, and how it will fit into our futures. This article by time magazine, '''The Army's Bold Plan to Turn Soldiers Into Telepaths''' hones in on the idea that the ways in which neuroscience could impact us are ever growing. Although at first neuroscience seems to find general roles in our emerging everyday lives, soon it will also fill in very specific corners and responsibilities; such as being used in the Army as a means of increasing our variability of weapons.

The article starts by bringing attention to the fact that the concepts associated with the future of neuroscience are just that- very futuristic. Many of the ways in which neuroscience and its findings could be applied to everyday life are concepts that have been talked about for generation but seem to be 'too far out' to be realistic and plausible. The foundations of these roles also need to be reestablished. For instance, the article points out that at first one might think a mind reading individual would be going through ones thoughts collecting memories and associations, when in fact the mind reader can be collecting information which will help protect him or help him protect a fellow solider. This idea is coined by the article as part of a U.S. Army project which is building "thought "helmets' (1).

The basis of synthetic telepathy is relying on research which is currently looking into which regions of the brain are responsible for the various processes of storing and processing thoughts. The overall goal of the US Army project would be to build a helmet which would be embedded with such technologies that can scan a brain similar to in the large scale fashion which are used for the research to identify these regions. The technology that would be embedded into the helmet would be able to carry out such functions as to be able to "target specific brain waves, translate them into words, and transmit those words wirelessly to a radio speaker or an ear piece worn by other soldiers" (1).

The idea and basis for the thought helmets and synthetic telepathy originated from the science fiction book Skylark of Space, a 1946 classic which was read by Elmar Schmeisser. The concepts and potential that neuroscience hold have been around forever, it is now taking the courage f individuals to speak up and realize that these ideas are plausible which is moving neuroscience both in a forward and controversial direction. Schmeisser began to progress with his idea of the thought helmet after a 2006 lecture when he realized the up and coming world of recording individual neurons and extracting signals from the surface of the brain. Although at first the army thought it to be hallucination that such an idea could work, they asked for evidence of its proof and Schmeisser and others are most definitely delivering results. After research results and new findings in the field, Schmeisser had won over many individuals and organizations and began working more in depth on the thought helmet for the Army.

Ultimately Schmeisser wanted to produce answers to big neuroscience questions which would in turn allow future researchers to capture complicate thoughts and ideas (1). He realized though that the rudimentary though helmet, capable of discerning commands, would be a valuable achievement and a step in the right direction to continue to gain supporters and funding for such a project. This point in the article paves way to where most neuroscience controversies come from- the ideas they are based on are as ever growing as the field. Many of the applications of neuroscience to real life open doors for more and more complex application to be found, and therein lies why the topics become so controversial.

Schmeisser himself points out that in actuality little is known about how the brain really functions, more so just about all the players that are present, contributing or not. "This project is attempting to make the scientific breakthrough that will have application for many things. If we can get at the black box we call the brain with the reduced dimensionality of speech, then we will have made a beginning to solving fundamental challenges in understanding how the brain works- and, with that, of understanding individuality" (1).

(1) http://discovermagazine.com/2011/apr/15-armys-bold-plan-turn-soldiers-into-telepaths
Posted by      Jamie S. at 9:37 PM MDT
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