It is not easy being a spy or a soldier: you have to be completely foucsed in dangerous situations, assess information in the field, speak many foreign languages, and also handle all kinds of technical weaponry and equipment.
Learning how to do all of this needs a lot of training, which is why the US Department of Defence research wing wants to figure out other ways to make their workers learn the vital skills faster – even if they have to zap them to get the job done.
To explore all the possibilities, Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA has awarded more than US$50 million in their funding to eight teams which are researching on how electrical stimulation of the nervous system can help them facilitate learning.
The four-year program is called TNT(Targeted Neuroplasticity Training), aims to be the identity safe and also optimal neurostimulation methods which can activate what is called synaptic plasticity, the ability of synapses to weaken or strengthen, and by doing so, learn how to do latest things and make memories.
“Defence Department operates in a very complex, interconnected world in which the human skills like communication and analysis are very important, and the Department has long pushed the frontiers of training to maximise those skills,” says bioengineer Doug Weber, who manages the TNT program.
“DARPA’s goal with TNT is to further enhance the most effective existing training methods so the men and women of our Armed Forces can operate at their full potential.”
Whether that can be achieved remains to be seen, but the hope is that by delivering electrical pulses to the nervous system, the researchers can figure out how to release certain key neurochemicals to modulate neural connections in the brain that could have an impact on synaptic plasticity.