I hate to burst your bubble, but we will not be uploading new skills directly into your brain any time in the near future.
With headlines from The Telegraph such as: “Scientists discover how to upload knowledge to your brain,” or from RT: “Take the red pill: Researchers develop ‘Matrix’-style brain stimulator that instantly teaches skill,” it’s no wonder people are getting excited.
Dr. Matthew Phillips and his team from HRL’s Information & System Sciences Laboratory had used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to improve learning and skill retention, with Phillips saying:
“We measured the brain activity patterns of six commercial and military pilots, and then transmitted these patterns into novice subjects as they learned to pilot an airplane in a realistic flight simulator.”
What the researchers found was that subjects who had undergone brain stimulation via the electrode-embedded head caps had an improvement in their piloting abilities.
“We measured the average g-force of the plane during the simulated landing and compared it to control subjects who received a mock brain stimulation.”
The most significant results were found in the 4–7Hz energy range, or “theta.” The subjects were given a variety of aviating tasks. Even though they excelled at landing, they still struggled to figure out flight deviations from a false malfunctioning autopilot.
What does it mean?
The study does not say that you can have a new skill directly transferred via brain waves. However it does show that it could be possible to improve a persons current capacity to learn new skills.
Watch as the reserchers from HRL Laboratories, LLC talk about the new discovery:
How did they improve the capacity to learn?
They used a neuro-stimulation technique known as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to stimulate the areas in the brain that are responsible for learning and skill retention. It is noninvasive and painless; the technique uses a continuous, low electric current to excite specific brain regions.
There are studies that suggest tDCS could be used as a treatment for neuropsychological disorders like depression, anxiety, and Parkinson’s disease. Some patients have demonstrated cognitive improvement; however a recent study found no indication of cognitive effects from tDCS.
Phillips and his team from HRL Labs now challenges that study, which was published in the journal Brain Stimulation.
The brain waves of six commercial and military pilots were monitored by the researchers. Then those patterns were transmitted into 32 novices, who were just learning how to pilot a plane in a flight simulator.
What was discovered was that the subjects who had received the tDCS brain stimulation had improved their piloting abilities, in particular their landing skills. Those who were exposed to a placebo showed no improvement.
The findings suggests that tDCS may help to improve your ability to learn, albeit temporarily. However, the authors did note that it doesn’t mean that specific types of information were transmitted via this technique.
Phillips speculates that the potential to increase our learning by using brain stimulation may make this form of accelerated learning commonplace.
“As we discover more about optimizing, personalizing, and adapting brain stimulation protocols, we’ll likely see these technologies become routine in training and classroom environments.
“It’s possible that brain stimulation could be implemented for classes like drivers’ training, SAT prep, and language learning.”
Did Phillips and his team create something straight out of The Matrix? It’s highly unlikely. To re-configure the physical state of neurons to upload skills would necessitate a lot more than just targeted beams of electric currents.
There has been headway when it comes to the brain, for example researchers used a mixture of genetics and light delivered through fiber optic cables to modify the associative memories in mice.
However, the capacity to “upload” an entire skill set could ultimately happen, it just may take a few more years of research.