In a story that could come straight out of Total Recall, the Pentagon has started testing the application of running low level electrical currents through soldiers’ brains as a replacement for coffee and energy drinks.
The currents, which are targeted to specific areas of the brain, show great potential, although testing has been limited.
Bryan Bender, reporting for the Boston Globe, states:
Early experiments using “noninvasive” brain stimulation have been performed on several dozen volunteers at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The results show the technique improves both alertness and acuity, researchers say.
In one scenario of testing, volunteers — who had been given either caffeine, electrical stimulation, or nothing at all — were kept awake for 30 hours while being tested for wakefulness and vigor.
Those given electrical stimulation reported feeling refreshed at the end of the testing, despite obvious sleep deprivation. Overall, volunteers hooked up to the electrodes performed twice as well as those given nothing.
Surprisingly, volunteers who had been given caffeine performed the worst of all three groups. By the time the 30 hours had passed, the group had “tanked.”
As the U.S. military has become increasingly reliant on drone technology, finding ways to keep pilots alert has become an increasingly pressing matter. Soldiers now can spends hours scanning through uneventful data during a drone flight, leading to a very real possibility of critical slips in vigilance.
Bender notes that “monitoring intense streams of data can quickly become so repetitive — especially when there is no action — that attentiveness and recognition can deteriorate in as little as 20 minutes.”
Researchers acknowledge that there has been no real testing done to see the potential long-term effects of using electrical stimulation every day.
Plans to test that at Ohio Air Base are underway, though.
With advances like this, it may not be too far in the future that consumer electric shocks become the next big thing. After all, it’s not the first time people have turned to zapping themselves.
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