In March 2016, DARPA — the U.S. military’s “mad science” division — declared their Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT) program. The TNT program wishes to discover numerous safe neurostimulation techniques for triggering synaptic plasticity, which is the brain’s capability to change the joining points among neurons — a prerequisite for learning.
DARPA expects that building up that capability by exposing the nervous system to a kind of workout routine will allow the brain to learn more rapidly.
The ultimate end advantage for this kind of innovation would be downloadable learning. Rather than wanting to learn, for example, a new language by severe study and practice over a long period of time, we could ultimately “download” the knowledge after placing our minds into a highly accessible, neuroplastic state.
Obviously, this kind of research would help anyone, but crucial military assignments can succeed or fail based on the timing. In those circumstances, a quicker way to train soldiers would be a remarkable boon.
First Neurostimulation, Then Application
As part of the TNT program, DARPA is financing eight ventures at seven organizations. All projects are part of a synchronized effort that will first study the basic science undergirding brain plasticity and will close with human trials. The first part of the TNT program will work to undo the neural mechanisms that permit nerve stimulation to affect brain plasticity. The second part of the program will be to apply what has been learned in a range of practice exercises.
To guarantee the work stays practical, foreign language experts, intelligence specialists, and others who train people now will work with scientists to help improve the TNT platform to suit military training requirements. Scientists will compare the efficiency of using an implanted device to stimulate the brain vs. non-invasive stimulation. They will also study both the ethics of improved learning through neurostimulation and ways to evade side effects and possible risks.
“The Defense Department operates in a complex, interconnected world in which human skills such as communication and analysis are vital, and the Department has long pushed the frontiers of training to maximize those skills. DARPA’s goal with TNT is to further enhance the most effective existing training methods so the men and women of our Armed Forces can operate at their full potential.” Doug Weber, the TNT Program Manager, said in a DARPA press release.
If the TNT program prospers, striving to be all you can be may mean learning at a much quicker speed, and not just for military personnel. Downloadable learning may be one of the ways we attain next-level humanity.