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Neurotechnology and the military: A Capitol Hill briefing

Picture yourself as a U.S. soldier with expertise in a field critical to our defense, but as a result of an accident you are paralyzed and no longer able to act on that very expertise that is so valuable to global security. Imagine a future when military servicemen will once again be able to serve their country regardless of paralysis. Or when a pill can help soldiers stay alert with minimal sleep, or even make them smarter. What if we created a drug that made captured enemies more trusting of interrogators?

Well, according to this presentation brought to you by the U.S. House Armed Services Committee,  the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Dana Foundation, these science-fiction technologies are verging on becoming science-reality. Dr. Martha J. Farah, Dr. Leigh R. Hochberg, and Dr. Jonathan D. Moreno discuss thought-to-action technologies, methods of neurological enhancement, and the ethical implications of the manipulation and alteration of a human's natural ability and will.

Watch the lectures:

  • Dr. Martha J. Farah, Director of the Center for Neuroscience and Society and Walter H. Annenberg Professor in the Natural Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses the possible methods of enhancing brain activity in order to increase cognitive ability, wakefulness, and affect. She talks about the use of pharmacological products, noninvasive brain stimulation, and traditional methods and how they can increase our neural activity. She recommends cautious optimism about what we can do to enhance our brains, with some of the best methods still being things our grandmothers would lecture us about.
  • Dr. Leigh R. Hochberg of the Center for Restorative and Regenerative Medicine, an Associate Professor of Engineering at Brown University, a Visiting Associate Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, and a physician with the Acute Stroke Program and Neurocritical Care Unit of Massachusetts General Hospital, discusses neurotechnologies developed with the intent of restoring mobility and communication to civilian victims of neurological disease and paralysis, but also to soldiers and veterans who have lost such abilities in combat, including Brain Computer Interfaces that turn thought directly into action.
  • Dr. Jonathan D. Moreno, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Professor of Medical Ethics and Health Policy and of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and author of Mind Wars: Brain Research and National Defense (2006), raises points on the past use of neuroscientific research conducted by the government. He talks about the history of the government's interest in brain activity, from warrior monks to LSD. And he questions about the ethical implications of human testing and manipulation and unforeseen consequences of altering a human's natural ability and will.

AAAS Intern Sam Yi contributed to this report

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