Scientists hopeful advances in neuroscience could improve military training
Scientists hopeful advances in neuroscience could improve military training (Royal Society) Royal Society

Weapons of war could be controlled by the minds of soldiers if military scientists harness advances in neuroscience, a report has suggested.

The research published by the Royal Society, Britain's national academy of science, shows the possible benefits of neuroscience to the military and law enforcement.

The report suggests two ways in which the military could make use of breakthroughs in neuroscience: incapacitating the enemy with designer drugs to make them fall asleep and performance enhancement to improve the efficiency of one's own forces.

One of the more incredible scenarios suggested in the report involved the use of devices known as brain-machine interfaces (BMIs), which connects soldiers' brains directly to military technology, such as drone aircraft and weapons.

"Since the human brain can process images, such as targets, much faster than the subject is consciously aware of, a neurally interfaced weapons system could provide significant advantages over other system control methods in terms of speed and accuracy," the report says.

The findings built upon previous research, which enabled people to use their brain signals to control cursors and artificial limbs through BMIs.

Neuroscientists passed weak electrical signals through the skulls of soldiers using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). The signals improved their awareness while in hostile environments and they could spot roadside bombs, snipers and other hidden threats in a virtual reality training programmes used by US troops bound for the Middle East

New designer drugs are able to improve the alertness, attention and memory of military personnel while in the field, the report added.

"The application of neuroscience research in the development of enhancement and degradation technologies for military and law enforcement use raises significant ethical consideration," said Prof Rod Flower, chair of the Royal Society and professor of pharmacology at the William Harvey Research Institute at Barts and the London Hospital.

"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?" he asked.

"There's a blurring of the line between individual responsibility and the functioning of the machine. Where do you stop and the machine begin?"