May 16

Pentagon Preps Soldier Telepathy Push


Forget the battlefield radios, the combat PDAs or even infantry hand signals. When the soldiers of the future want to communicate, they’ll read each other’s minds.

At least, that’s the hope of researchers at the Pentagon’s mad-science division Darpa. The agency’s budget for the next fiscal year includes $4 million to start up a program called Silent Talk. The goal is to “allow user-to-user communication on the battlefield without the use of vocalized speech through analysis of neural signals.” That’s on top of the $4 million the Army handed out last year to the University of California to investigate the potential for computer-mediated telepathy.

Before being vocalized, speech exists as word-specific neural signals in the mind. Darpa wants to develop technology that would detect these signals of  “pre-speech,” analyze them, and then transmit the statement to an intended interlocutor. Darpa plans to use EEG to read the brain waves. It’s a technique they’re also testing in a project to devise mind-reading binoculars that alert soldiers to threats faster the conscious mind can process them.

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Dec 02

Research is confirming the medicinal effects that advocates have long claimed for meditation.

For thousands of years, Buddhist meditators have claimed that the simple act of sitting down and following their breath while letting go of intrusive thoughts can free one from the entanglements of neurotic suffering.

Now, scientists are using cutting-edge scanning technology to watch the meditating mind at work. They are finding that regular meditation has a measurable effect on a variety of brain structures related to attention — an example of what is known as neuroplasticity, where the brain physically changes in response to an intentional exercise.

A team of Emory University scientists reported in early September that experienced Zen meditators were much better than control subjects at dropping extraneous thoughts and returning to the breath. The study, “‘Thinking about Not-Thinking:’ Neural Correlates of Conceptual Processing During Zen Meditation,” published by the online research journal PLoS ONE, found that “meditative training may foster the ability to control the automatic cascade of semantic associations triggered by a stimulus and, by extension, to voluntarily regulate the flow of spontaneous mentation.”

The same researchers reported last year that longtime meditators don’t lose gray matter in their brains with age the way most people do, suggesting that meditation may have a neuro-protective effect. A rash of other studies in recent years meanwhile have found, for example, that practitioners of insight meditation have noticeably thicker tissue in the prefrontal cortex (the region responsible for attention and control) and that experienced Tibetan monks practicing compassion meditation generate unusually strong and coherent gamma waves in their brains.

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Sep 15

Army scientists want to cram this array of brain-wave reading sensors into a helmet.

Soldiers barking orders at each other is so 20th Century. That’s why the U.S. Army has just awarded a $4 million contract to begin developing “thought helmets” that would harness silent brain waves for secure communication among troops. Ultimately, the Army hopes the project will “lead to direct mental control of military systems by thought alone.”

If this sounds insane, it would have been as recently as a few years ago. But improvements in computing power and a better understanding of how the brain works have scientists busy hunting for the distinctive neural fingerprints that flash through a brain when a person is talking to himself. The Army’s initial goal is to capture those brain waves with incredibly sophisticated software that then translates the waves into audible radio messages for other troops in the field. “It’d be radio without a microphone, ” says Dr. Elmar Schmeisser, the Army neuroscientist overseeing the program. “Because soldiers are already trained to talk in clean, clear and formulaic ways, it would be a very small step to have them think that way.”

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Sep 09

There are various other satellite powers, such as manipulating electronic instruments and appliances like alarms, electronic watches and clocks, a television, radio, smoke detector and the electrical system of an automobile. For example, the digital alarm on a watch, tiny though it is, can be set off by a satellite from hundreds of miles up in space. And the light bulb of a lamp can be burned out with the burst of a laser from a satellite. In addition, street lights and porch lights can be turned on and off at will by someone at the controls of a satellite, the means being an electromagnetic beam which reverses the light’s polarity. Or a lamp can be made to burn out in a burst of blue light when the switch is flicked. As with other satellite powers, it makes no difference if the light is under a roof or a ton of concrete–it can still be manipulated by a satellite laser. Types of satellite lasers include the free-electron laser, the x-ray laser, the neutral-particle-beam laser, the chemical-oxygen-iodine laser and the mid-infra-red advanced chemical laser.

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Sep 09

Unknown to most of the world, satellites can perform astonishing and often menacing feats. This should come as no surprise when one reflects on the massive effort poured into satellite technology since the Soviet satellite Sputnik, launched in 1957, caused panic in the U.S. A spy satellite can monitor a person’s every movement, even when the “target” is indoors or deep in the interior of a building or traveling rapidly down the highway in a car, in any kind of weather (cloudy, rainy, stormy). There is no place to hide on the face of the earth. It takes just three satellites to blanket the world with detection capacity. Besides tracking a person’s every action and relaying the data to a computer screen on earth, amazing powers of satellites include reading a person’s mind, monitoring conversations, manipulating electronic instruments and physically assaulting someone with a laser beam. Remote reading of someone’s mind through satellite technology is quite bizarre, yet it is being done; it is a reality at present, not a chimera from a futuristic dystopia! To those who might disbelieve my description of satellite surveillance, I’d simply cite a tried-and-true Roman proverb: Time reveals all things (tempus omnia revelat).

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Apr 14

Imagine a world of streets lined with video cameras that alert authorities to any suspicious activity. A world where police officers can read the minds of potential criminals and arrest them before they commit any crimes. A world in which a suspect who lies under questioning gets nabbed immediately because his brain has given him away.

Though that may sound a lot like the plot of the 2002 movie “Minority Report,” starring Tom Cruise and based on a Philip K. Dick novel, I’m not talking about science fiction here; it turns out we’re not so far away from that world. But does it sound like a very safe place, or a very scary one?

It’s a question I think we should be asking as the federal government invests millions of dollars in emerging technology aimed at detecting and decoding brain activity. And though government funding focuses on military uses for these new gizmos, they can and do end up in the hands of civilian law enforcement and in commercial applications. As spending continues and neurotechnology advances, that imagined world is no longer the stuff of science fiction or futuristic movies, and we postpone at our peril confronting the ethical and legal dilemmas it poses for a society that values not just personal safety but civil liberty as well.

Consider Cernium Corp.’s “Perceptrak” video surveillance and monitoring system, recently installed by Johns Hopkins University, among others. This technology grew out of a project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense — to develop intelligent video analytics systems. Unlike simple video cameras monitored by security guards, Perceptrak integrates video cameras with an intelligent computer video. It uses algorithms to analyze streaming video and detect suspicious activities, such as people loitering in a secure area, a group converging or someone leaving a package unattended. Since installing Perceptrak, Johns Hopkins has reported a 25 percent reduction in crime.

But that’s only the beginning. Police may soon be able to monitor suspicious brain activity from a distance as well. New neurotechnology soon may be able to detect a person who is particularly nervous, in possession of guilty knowledge or, in the more distant future, to detect a person thinking, “Only one hour until the bomb explodes.” Today, the science of detecting and decoding brain activity is in its infancy. But various government agencies are funding the development of technology to detect brain activity remotely and are hoping to eventually decode what someone is thinking. Scientists, however, wildly disagree about the accuracy of brain imaging technology, what brain activity may mean and especially whether brain activity can be detected from afar.

Yet as the experts argue about the scientific limitations of remote brain detection, this chilling science fiction may already be a reality. In 2002, the Electronic Privacy Information Center reported that NASA was developing brain monitoring devices for airports and was seeking to use noninvasive sensors in passenger gates to collect the electronic signals emitted by passengers’ brains. Scientists scoffed at the reports, arguing that to do what NASA was proposing required that an electroencephalogram (EEG) be physically attached to the scalp. Continue reading »

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Mar 20

Augmented Cognition,” the Darpa program to build computer interfaces that adapt to their users’ brains, has officially run its course.  But efforts to build mind-reading PCs continue throughout the military establishment.  Augmented Cognition relies on the idea that people have more than one kind of working memory, and more than one kind of attention; there are separate slots in the mind for things written, things heard and things seen. By monitoring how taxed those areas of the brain are, it should be possible to change a computer’s display to compensate. If people are getting too much visual information, send them a text alert. If they reading too much at once, present some of the data visually — in a chart or map.


The Air Force has tapped Design Interactive, Inc. to build a battlefield command-and-control system that works along these lines.  It’s supposed to use EEG and eye-tracking monitors to “assess the operator’s actual cognitive state.”  That way, the system can play around with its “information display” to “avoid cognitive bottlenecks before they occur.”  And that’s just the start.  Eventually, the company wants the program to “anticipate future mission state and operator functional state ahead of time,” too. Continue reading »

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