Neuroscience could mean soldiers controlling weapons with minds

Medevac troops from the American 451st air expeditionary wing look out from their Pavehawk helicopter while heading to pick up casualties in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photograph: Sean Smith for the Guardian

Soldiers could have their minds plugged directly into weapons systems, undergo brain scans during recruitment and take courses of neural stimulation to boost their learning, if the armed forces embrace the latest developments in neuroscience to hone the performance of their troops.

These scenarios are described in a report into the military and law enforcement uses of neuroscience, published on Tuesday, which also highlights a raft of legal and ethical concerns that innovations in the field may bring.

The report by the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, says that while the rapid advance of neuroscience is expected to benefit society and improve treatments for brain disease and mental illness, it also has substantial security applications that should be carefully analysed.

The report’s authors also anticipate new designer drugs that boost performance, make captives more talkative and make enemy troops fall asleep.

“Neuroscience will have more of an impact in the future,” said Rod Flower, chair of the report’s working group.

“People can see a lot of possibilities, but so far very few have made their way through to actual use.

“All leaps forward start out this way. You have a groundswell of ideas and suddenly you get a step change.”

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