Reading someone's mind is considered a trick and is often ridiculed as nonsense. But the term gained popularity after the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the '60s tried a similar technique in its now declassified Project MKUltra.
The infamous project was designed to control people's mind, rather than reading them. It is unknown whether the CIA could actually control people's minds but the U.S. Army is now developing a technology that would help soldiers communicate in silence or read fellow soldier's minds.
Communication is key during major operations. But in certain conditions, speaking to each other could be dangerous. That's where the technology comes in. A soldier can communicate with each other in silence without the enemy noticing. Researchers, funded by the U.S. Army Research Office (ARO), have been able to separate brain signals that trigger an action or behavior from those that do not. It is seen as a breakthrough in achieving silent communication.
The ARO neuroscientists used monkeys to interpret brain signals using a complex algorithm. They were able to decode brain signals that triggered motion and behavior. By interpreting the signals, soldiers can understand if anyone is fatigued and should take a break. "Here we are not only measuring signals, but we're interpreting them," said Hamid Krim, an ARO program manager told C4ISRNET, adding that the possibilities are limitless.
Unlike the CIA experiments, this is not illegal and doesn't want to alter someone's mind. Rather, it does what many neuroscientists have been trying to achieve for decades, creating a brain-computer interface. Elon Musk's Neuralink is also trying to achieve similar functionality, albeit, for a different purpose. As warfare is being modernized, at times automated, to mitigate the loss of lives, reading minds would be an important step forward.
This way, an artificial intelligence system could also read a soldier's mind and give instructions to strike a target down, without uttering a word. But for now, the ARO researchers want to establish a link with the computer so it can provide a soldier with corrective feedback to change an action beforehand. It could avoid a potentially life-threatening situation and protect the health of the soldier. The main focus is on talking to each other silently on the battlefield via a computer.
"So, you and I are out there in the theater and we have to talk about something that we're confronting. I basically talked to my computer — your computer can be in your pocket; it can be your mobile phone or whatever — and that computer talks to your teammate's computer. And then his or her computer is going to talk to your teammate," Krim explained.
When Will It Be Ready?
That's a question, scientists have been asking themselves. Like other brain-computer interfaces (BCI), Krim's silent communication tech is also decades away. The application is limited by the technology of its time and any meaningful battle-ready BCI would take some time. But after achieving this breakthrough, scientists are now trying to identify and interpret other signals apart from those that trigger motions.
"The next step after that is to be able to understand it. The next step after that is to break it down into words so that you can synthesize in a sense like you learn your vocabulary and your alphabet, then you are able to compose," Krim said.
The main purpose of the technology is to achieve full-duplex communication so that the soldier understands what the computer is saying and the other way around. "You can read anything you want; doesn't mean that you understand it. At the end of the day, that is the original intent mainly: to have the computer actually being in a full-duplex communication mode with the brain," Krim said.