August 14, 2008
Future wars could see opponents attacking each other’s minds, according to a report for the US military.
Landmines releasing brain-altering chemicals, scanners reading soldiers’ minds and devices boosting eyesight and hearing could all one figure in arsenals, suggests the study.
Sophisticated drugs, designed for dementia patients but also allowing troops to stay awake and alert for several days are expected to be developed, according to the report. It is thought that some US soldiers are already taking drugs prescribed for narcolepsy in an attempt to combat fatigue.
As well as those physically and mentally boosting one’s own troops, substances could also be developed to deplete an opponents’ forces, it says.
“How can we disrupt the enemy’s motivation to fight?” it asks. “Is there a way to make the enemy obey our commands?” Research shows that “drugs can be utilized to achieve abnormal, diseased, or disordered psychology” among one’s enemy, it concludes.
Research is particularly encouraging in the area of functional neuroimaging, or understanding the relationships between brain activity and actions, the report says, raising hopes that scanners able to read the intentions or memories of soldiers could soon be developed.
Some military chiefs and law enforcement officials hope that a new generation of polygraphs, or lie detectors, which spot lie-telling by observing changes in brain activity, can be built.
“Pharmacological landmines,” which release drugs to incapacitate soldiers upon their contact with them, could also be developed, according to the report’s authors.
The report, which was commissioned by the Defense Intelligence Agency, contained the work of scientists asked to examine how better understanding of how the human mind works was likely to affect the development of technology.
It finds that “great progress has been made” in neuroscience over the last decade, and that continuing advances offered the prospect of a dramatic impact on military equipment and the way in which wars are fought.
It also explains that the concept of torture could be transformed in the future. “It is possible that some day there could be a technique developed to extract information from a prisoner that does not have any lasting side effects,” it states. One technique being developed involves the delivery of electrical pulses into a suspect’s brain and delay their ability to lie by interfering with its neurons.
Research into “distributed human-machine systems”, including robots and military hardware controlled by an operator’s mind, is another particular area for optimism among researchers, according to the report. It says significant progress has already been made and that prospects for use of the field are “limited only by the creative imagination.”
Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist and the author of Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense, said “It’s too early to know which, if any, of these technologies is going to be practical. But it’s important for us to get ahead of the curve. Soldiers are always on the cutting edge of new technologies.”
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