A new report produced yesterday by the U.K.'s Royal Society states that the progression of neuroscience will not only improve treatment in the medical field in the near future but will also have more of an application in a military setting. So much so, that the report suggests soldiers brains could be, in effect, "plugged in" to the weapons they operate.
With the quickly advancing technology, the group calls for government to look further down the line and prepare for the legal and ethical implications of the use of this technology.
The report states:
Neuroscience is a rapidly advancing field encompassing a range of applications and technologies that are likely to provide significant benefits to society, particularly in the treatment of neurological impairment, disease, and psychiatric illness. However, this new knowledge also suggests a number of potential military and law enforcement applications.
These applications tend to serve one of two main goals. Performance enhancing applications seek to improve the efficiency of one’s own forces – for example by optimising recruitment, training and operational performance or improving treatments for rehabilitation. Performance degrading applications seek to diminish the performance of one’s enemy – for example through the development of weapons such as incapacitating chemicals.
Wired notes that authors seem to be concerned about Britain's recent interpretation of the Chemical Weapons Convention's protocol for use of incapacitating chemicals as weapons by law enforcement. The authors state that it “suggests that the use of incapacitating chemical agents for law enforcement purposes would be in compliance with the CWC as long as they were in types and quantities consistent with that permitted purpose”. With the review of the CWC coming up in 2013, report authors call for officials to consider the definition of "incapacitating chemicals" at that time.
Another interesting facet within the report, The Guardian writes, is that the authors also place an emphasis on technology using a brain-machine interface. The brain can control a weapon much faster than a finger poised on a trigger, which waits for the signal from the brain before pulling. There is some concern over where to draw the line should use of this technology in a military capacity come to fruition:
[Rod] Flower, a professor of pharmacology at the William Harvey Research Institute at Barts and the London hospital, said: "If you are controlling a drone and you shoot the wrong target or bomb a wedding party, who is responsible for that action? Is it you or the BMI?
"There's a blurring of the line between individual responsibility and the functioning of the machine. Where do you stop and the machine begin?"
Research is already being conducted to use similar technology to help disabled patients. For example, scientists have translated the thoughts of paralyzed people into words through analysis of their brain scans.
Another form of technology mentioned in the report includes sending a weak electrical shock through the skull to enhance performance, which studies have already found to be effective.
Red Orbit reports that brain imaging expert Irene Tracey of Oxford University said in a press conference while some of the ideas in the report may seem too futuristic, the rate at which technology is improving is "alarmingly quick". Therefore, the reality of these outlandish ideas is not too far off.
The report also calls for scientists to consider the dual-use of improving neural technology -- how it can be used both to harm and benefit humanity.
[H/T Popular Science]