Fourth Industrial Revolution

Have we just discovered how to upload knowledge to our brains?

A woman walks past a display of a brain slice of patient "H.M." at the press preview for the MIT 150 Exhibition at the MIT Museum, celebrating Massachusetts Institute of Technology's 150 year anniversary, in Cambridge, Massachusetts January 7, 2011. Patient H.M. has been extensively studied because of his inability to form long term memories following brain surgery in 1953 for his epilepsy. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Put on your thinking cap ... an electrical stimulator could amp up brain function Image: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Joe Myers
Writer, Forum Agenda
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Neuroscience

Knowledge, skills and information could one day be fed directly into our brains, say neuroscientists.

A team from HRL Laboratories has developed a technique using electrical brain stimulation that enhances learning. The research, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, showed that stimulation was able to improve skill learning and retention among novice trainee pilots.

Dr Matthew Phillips, one of the researchers, believes this type of accelerated learning could become commonplace. “As we discover more about optimizing, personalizing and adapting brain stimulation protocols, we’ll likely see this technology become routine in training and classroom environments,” he says.

How does it work?

The experiment used transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) to transmit the brain activity of trained pilots into novices as they used a flight simulator. The novices were then subjected to a series of tests within the simulator, while wearing an electrode-embedded head cap. These tests took place across four consecutive days, as participants’ performance was monitored as they attempted to land the aircraft.

Results showed that those receiving the stimulation saw a greater improvement in their piloting ability, compared with a control group. “We measured the average G-force of the plane during the simulated landing and compared it to control subjects who received a mock brain stimulation,” explained Phillips.

So The Matrix is here?

While there is a way to go before we understand the protocols and processes involved, this stimulation technique offers a window on a future where skill-acquisition devices are commonplace, such as those seen in the sci-fi film The Matrix. However, says Phillips, it could one day make passing your driving test, taking exams or learning a language a little bit easier.

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