US Navy SEALs have begun testing the effects of concentrated electricity on the brain in order to improve performance in strenuous situations.
Transcranial electrical stimulation was one of many technologies put forward by former President Obama’s Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter, in July of last year, as part of the Defense Innovation Unit (Experimental) initiative, also known as DIUx. “Earlier this year, Naval Special Warfare units, working with DIUx, began a specific cognitive enhancement project with a small group of volunteers to test and evaluate achieving higher performance through the use of neuro-stimulation technology,” Capt. Jason Salata told Military.com. SEAL Team Six was reportedly one of the units involved in the testing.
The technology, created by Halo Neuroscience, uses a headset that looks similar to headphones. The technology does not technically result in cognitive enhancement, according to Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder Brett Wingeier, but “neuro-priming,” which stimulates “the brain to enter a state of hyper-elasticity, allowing users to learn better and more efficiently.”
According to Salata, early results of the technology in the military “show promising signs.” Rear Admiral Tim Szymanski explained the improvements shown in an experiment involving people watching screens over a long period of time:
In experiments, people who were watching these screens … their ability to concentrate would fall off in about 20 minutes… But they did studies whereby a little bit of electrical stimulation was applied, and they were able to maintain the same peak performance for 20 hours… They’re training at this amazingly high level, and the amount they can train is actually limited by things like physical recovery… They want to be able to maintain those incredible physical standards as efficiently as possible. That helps them avoid injury. If I was to sum it up, it’s kind of all about just training a little bit smarter.
However, Szymanski also made sure to highlight that while he was interested in more performance-enhancing technologies, he was aware of the possible dangers that may be entailed in future research:
I’m always anxious, because I’m in a community of risk-takers… Guys may want to try experimenting on their own, which is against policy and has to be completely drug-tested and those types of things. So I’d want to do that in a very systematic kind of way.