In the 1999 hit science-fiction film The Matrix, the hero, Neo, needs to learn martial arts in order to defeat the machines that control humanity. Having no knowledge of any fighting skill, he is amazed when he discovers that ju-jitsu, karate, kickboxing, and so on can be downloaded to his brain via a computer program.
Now, in a scientific breakthrough, researchers at HRL Laboratories have claimed that they have developed a program that will be able to upload skills and knowledge directly to the brain.
The institution, based in California, analysed electrical signals and patterns within the brain structure of a pilot, then proceeded to transfer that data into the minds of other people who had no prior knowledge or experience with flying planes, via head caps that were embedded with electrodes to stimulate the relevant regions of the brain.
According to the record of the experiment published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, those participants then went head-to-head against a placebo group on a flight simulation test, with the former performing an average of 33% better than the latter.
Lead author Dr. Matthew Phillips explained: “Our system is one of the first of its kind. It’s a brain stimulation system. It sounds kind of sci-fi, but there’s large scientific basis for the development of our system.” The reason why the researchers chose the specific task of piloting an aircraft was because it “requires a synergy of both cognitive and motor performance.”
Phillips was able to describe exactly how the method was able to affect the brain: “When you learn something, your brain physically changes. Connections are made and strengthened in a process called neuro-plasticity. It turns out that certain functions of the brain, like speech and memory, are located in very specific regions of the brain, about the size of your pinky. What our system does is it actually targets those changes to specific regions of the brain as you learn … What we found is [that] brain stimulation seems to be particularly effective at actually improving learning.”
Surprising as it may seem, the method of shocking the brain with electric currents in order to alter the composition of it has been around for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians used electric fish to stimulate and reduce pain, and even Benjamin Franklin applied currents to his head. The rigorous, scientific investigation has only been around since the early 2000s however, so we’re still a little while away from the technologies promised by the Wachowski’s almost 2 decades ago.