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US Army To Develop "Thought Helmets" 226

Posted by Soulskill
from the better-than-"thought-pants"-i-guess dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Time Magazine reports on a $4 million US Army contract to begin developing 'thought helmets' to harness silent brain waves for secure communication among troops that the Army hopes will 'lead to direct mental control of military systems by thought alone.' The Army's initial goal is to capture brain waves with software that translates the waves into audible radio messages for other troops in the field. 'It'd be radio without a microphone,' says Dr. Elmar Schmeisser, the Army neuroscientist overseeing the program. 'Because soldiers are already trained to talk in clean, clear and formulaic ways, it would be a very small step to have them think that way.' The key challenge will be to develop software able to pinpoint speech-related brain waves and pick them up with a 128-sensor array that ultimately will be buried inside a helmet. Scientists deny charges that they're messing with soldiers' minds. 'A lot of people interpret wires coming out of the head as some sort of mind reading,' says Dr. Mike D'Zmura. 'But there's no way you can get there from here.' One potential civilian spin-off: a Bluetooth Helmet so people nearby can't hear you when you talk on your cell phone."
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US Army To Develop "Thought Helmets"

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:16AM (#25083465)

    US Army Chief of Staff To Develop "Thought"

  • TEMPEST... (Score:5, Funny)

    by armie (32968) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:20AM (#25083471)

    One problem with this is any electrical activity on the brain detected is then amplified. This makes TEMPEST attacks on the thoughts of the soldier much easier as the attacker already has an amplifier attached to the soldier. Solution? Every US Army soldier needs to wear a tin foil hat!

  • Prior to the filter? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dwedit (232252) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:20AM (#25083473) Homepage

    Wouldn't this take stuff before people have the ability to filter what they say and speak it out loud?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gazita123 (589586)
      Yeah, I can just imagine the sort of filter they would need to put on it to prevent fantasy thoughts from being made real (at least to keep the noise down). Swearing alone would take up at least half of the filter.
    • For "silent" communication I can see morse being communicated that way, but reading words from the brain ? Maybe one can train people to concentrate and clearly form a few specific patterns which can then be recognized afterward and translated to words, but i doubt you could learn and differentiate so many patterns as to have a wordly communication. Furthermore in the midst of fire exchange, I doubt this would be easier to use than a radio.
      • by stranger_to_himself (1132241) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @06:28AM (#25083689) Journal

        For "silent" communication I can see morse being communicated that way, but reading words from the brain ? Maybe one can train people to concentrate and clearly form a few specific patterns which can then be recognized afterward and translated to words, but i doubt you could learn and differentiate so many patterns as to have a wordly communication. Furthermore in the midst of fire exchange, I doubt this would be easier to use than a radio.

        I don't think adults can easily learn to use their brains in an entirely new way like this. Maybe if you gave a really young child one of these with some kind of visual feedback for them they could develop a more sophisticated way of communicating with it.

        Or better yet, maybe deaf kids could use this to talk amongst themselves. It would have to be started very young though, so the brain could develop and strengthen the areas needed. Actually this is now sounding a bit like the plot from The Midwitch Cuckoos.

        • by ardle (523599)
          I really like the "deaf" idea. We could also try it out on other species; as you suggested, "get em when they're young". We might learn interesting things.
          As a battlefield tool, I can't imagine it being of any use to soldiers who haven't used it for years and don't need to think about it. What these military people need for it to work are orphans or clones. Even cheaper, just use robots. Of course, these strategies might be considered inhumane.
          • by HiThere (15173)

            So what you do is get a civilian version to use as a game controller. Then by the time you draft them, they're already trained.

        • You misunderstand the functionality. The device interprets the activity in the speech center of the brain, and translates it into speech. The only 'training' you need is the ability to speak. This isn't some sort of obtuse mindspeak.

          It's similar to other research that noted minuscule vibrations in people's vocal chords while they type, vibrations that correspond to the words they were typing.

        • by smaddox (928261)

          The adult human brain is more than capable of adapting to new peripherals. The idea that children are better at learning than adults is no longer supported by science. Children just happen to be bombarded by new ideas at all times.

          I think the idea of this peripheral is that the subject would have a few commands that he would learn how to actively control. The number would grow over time - with practice. These commands could then be sent without any verbal cues, allowing for completely covert operation.

          In th

          • The adult human brain is more than capable of adapting to new peripherals. The idea that children are better at learning than adults is no longer supported by science. Children just happen to be bombarded by new ideas at all times.

            I don't think that's right. A child can sustain pretty massive brain damage, like removing a hemisphere for example, and make a pretty good recovery, recruiting other brain areas to compensate for the lost parts. An adult can't do that. It is true that adults can learn and adapt their brains throughout life, but children up to the age of about 10 are infinitely better at it.

      • For "silent" communication I can see morse being communicated that way, but reading words from the brain ? Maybe one can train people to concentrate and clearly form a few specific patterns which can then be recognized afterward and translated to words

        Yes indeed, if you read the summary, they don't intend to pick up whole speeches from within the brain, only small precise commands. From the summary :

        Because soldiers are already trained to talk in clean, clear and formulaic ways, it would be a very small step to have them think that way.

        In terms of though-reading this is as close to "reading speech",
        - as trained keyword recognition (teach your handsfree to recognise "reject call" command) is close to untrained free-form dictation in the field of voice recognition.
        - or as " .bind F12 'Heal,plz!'; " is close to a long IRC chat between non-lolspeak-challenged people in terms of internet textual

    • by cbhacking (979169) <been_out_cruising-slashdot@@@yahoo...com> on Saturday September 20, 2008 @06:14AM (#25083651) Homepage Journal

      It sounds like they're tapping into the signals that would normally be sent to the muscles (not to the motor nerves themselves, but the last stage prior to them). In a computer analogy, this would be like reading signals between the filesystem driver and the physical device driver - all the "filtering" of what you would actually say has probably already been done. Similarly, this wouldn't catch fleeting thoughts which you would never vocalize. On the other hand, it quite possibly *would* catch thoughts which you would normally say only under your breath or when the mic is off. There's still plenty of potential for embarassment...

      • Researchers have already done this sort of thing with monkeys [nytimes.com] and quadriplegics. [taragana.com] Contrary to what you might think, when something is wired up to our brain, controlling it actually comes quite naturally. In fact, once we get past the moral dilemma of being assimilated, our integration with the Borg should go quite smoothly.
    • by stephanruby (542433) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @06:18AM (#25083659)

      Wouldn't this take stuff before people have the ability to filter what they say and speak it out loud?

      Who knows? The military probably doesn't. After all, the military experimented with LSD long before it knew what it was. That's what so great about working with live soldiers. Our soldiers have no rights. They signed them away -- when they signed on the dotted line.

    • It's really to see who is gay and who is not. Whoever has gay thoughts will have to be let go because remember it's a don't ask don't think it type of military.
    • by Oktober Sunset (838224) <`ku.oc.oohay' `ta' `301egapds'> on Saturday September 20, 2008 @11:36AM (#25085185)
      Drill Sergeant: I am Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, your senior drill instructor. From now on you will speak only when spoken to, and the first and last words out of your filthy sewers will be sir. Do you maggots understand that?

      Recruits: Sir, yes sir.

      Helmet: What a dickhead.
    • They can have a button to press for letting it get to the radio broadcaster.
      Kind of like the Transmit buttons already found on the radios, just hooked up to the helmet rather than a mic.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by CFBMoo1 (157453)

      Nifty... I can see guys getting in real trouble with this. "Man that captain is hot, I wonder how she..."

      *Stern look from the Captain*

      "Uh umm..." *takes off helm*

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by RyoShin (610051)

      Perhaps I'm not fully understanding it, but I believe they don't have the ability to do on-the-spot translation. Instead, soldiers would likely go through a training regiment where they "think" commands, and the helmets are tuned for them personally while trying to get patterns as uniform as possible.

      So when they think "Bravo Team Forward", the helmet recognizes the expected brain waves and translates it. When they think "I could use a mallomar bar and a hooker", the helmet ignores it. You'd get a lot of

  • by neokushan (932374) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:24AM (#25083485)

    (All thought, of course)

    "Private Jenkins, Cover me!"
    "Sir, Yes, Sir!....man, sarge is so cool and he has such a great ass! He can cov-er-me-an-e-time-he-likes, tee-hee!"
    "Uhh...private Jenkins?!"
    "Uhh uhh yes, sarge?"
    "...I think I love you, too"

    And then they'd get shot or something. Anyway, the moral of the story is...well...I forget, what were we thinking about, again?

  • by Pichu0102 (916292) <pichu0102@gmail.com> on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:25AM (#25083487) Homepage Journal

    They should really look into other ways to deploy something like this. Maybe something that could be injected into a person. Perhaps nanotechnology?

    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      Well, they already wear a rather large and uncomfortable kevlar helmet and I doubt this will replace it in combat. Perhaps this is meant for in-the-rear commo vice while out on patrol. Or perhaps it will be incorporated into the existing helmet and commo systems. This being /., I couldn't be bothered with RTFA and finding out.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by OolimPhon (1120895)

        ...Perhaps this is meant for in-the-rear commo vice while out on patrol...

        Jesus! You mean this thing gets rectally inserted? Oh, wait... that would mean it would be near the soldier's brain then... good idea!

      • by Dun Malg (230075)

        Well, they already wear a rather large and uncomfortable kevlar helmet

        Bah! Kids nowadays! The new Advanced Combat Helmet they issue now is NICE compared to that old nasty PASGT we had in the 90's. It's only 3.25 lbs vs seven freakin' pounds, and has a higher back and 4-point strap so it doesn't slide down over your eyes when you go prone.

        perhaps it will be incorporated into the existing helmet and commo systems.

        yes, that's the plan.

    • by neokushan (932374) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:32AM (#25083513)

      Yeah and helmets have that nasty habit of preventing battlefield debris from getting lodged in your brain. Somehow I think that's worth being a tad uncomfortable.

    • If you can inject and use a transmitter this way, in real life, I've got at least 2 Nobel Prizes lined up and waiting for you. If you go all the way back to college biology, it's not polite to stuff probes directly into nerves and tends to damage them. But if the probe isn't in, or right against the nerve, the electrical noise from all the others swamps it. And there is no known solution to the problem.
  • Every soldier could use a little zest now and then.
  • Must remember to think in Russian when using the USSR version.

    • by DrVxD (184537)

      Must remember to think in Russian when using the USSR version.

      Don't you mean:
      "Must remember to think in Russian when using FireFox?"

  • change thinking? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Luke_22 (1296823) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:37AM (#25083525)

    'Because soldiers are already trained to talk in clean, clear and formulaic ways, it would be a very small step to have them think that way.'

    Am I the only one who's thinking "danger!danger!" here?
    talking is one thing, changing the way you think is more like... brainwashing?

  • by darkmeridian (119044) <william.chuang@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:45AM (#25083549) Homepage

    ... I wonder what the voice would sound like. I mean, the vocal cords and stuff determine what your voice sounds like, so if they read your mind and pipe that through a system it'd probably sound like a robot.

    • by Fumus (1258966)
      Maybe they could get a few speech synthesisers and the soldiers could choose their voice. I doubt that it would be hard to custom-make a voice for every troop, when you're dealing with reading thoughts..
  • He's not your Commander in Chief much longer, the next one will be capable of thought on his own.

  • Time Magazine reports on a $4 million US Army contract to begin developing 'thought helmets [..]

    We already have technology for picking up silent brain waves, but it still sounds like $4 million is slightly too cheap for this project.

    Also, what happens if a soldier panics and goes beyond reason? Wouldn't that create radio interference?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wisty (1335733)
      I believe that the exact wording was a "contract to begin developing". No helmets, just the groundwork. I guess that could be $4M. As for soldiers panicking, the helmet would probably pick it up, and show a busy sign or something. Come to think of it, showing when a soldier is in a state of panic (or rage) could be more useful then the communication component.
  • by ardle (523599) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @07:03AM (#25083783)
    Done.
  • Control of complete army units by thought alone... mind reading helmets... using thought directly as a means of communication... I'm surprised this story is not tagged "borg" already. It sounds pretty much like that.
  • Backspace? (Score:5, Funny)

    by saider (177166) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @07:20AM (#25083845)

    Thought : "Roger, Air Force One. Approach terminal Whisky-one"

    Transmit (to Roger) : "Terminate Air Force with Whiskey"

  • Protection (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NewsLeech (1217678)
    I already have a thought helmet. I made it out of tin foil.
  • by tjstork (137384) <todd@bandrowsky.gmail@com> on Saturday September 20, 2008 @07:40AM (#25083917) Homepage Journal

    Unless there's one time pad data in the helmet, the war might come to a tragic halt for the USA when the enemy fills up our heads with porn.

    This wired up army is a dumb idea. It's better to give troops the flexibility to matters into their own hands on the battlefield. If you want to have a better US Army, maybe instead of blowing billions on trying to turn platoons into borg, maybe pay sergeants more and jack up their retention rate. Sergeants are the backbone of any army and always will be more, more so than any communications gizmo.

    • by Dun Malg (230075)

      Unless there's one time pad data in the helmet, the war might come to a tragic halt for the USA when the enemy fills up our heads with porn.

      Don't be daft. The helmet system is read-only. It's basically the neurological monitoring of subvocalized speech.

      This wired up army is a dumb idea. It's better to give troops the flexibility to matters into their own hands on the battlefield.

      Yeah, because communication is just a distraction in warfare. You think this is about creating a Soviet model army, where the officers basically move mindless units around like chess pieces? Please. We simply don't work that way, and haven't since before WW1.

      If you want to have a better US Army, maybe instead of blowing billions on trying to turn platoons into borg, maybe pay sergeants more and jack up their retention rate. Sergeants are the backbone of any army and always will be more, more so than any communications gizmo.

      NCO retention is important, but it's not the end-all be-all of warfare. Also, throwing money at the problem isn't the answer. I was a sergea

  • by Denihil (1208200) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @07:41AM (#25083925)
    Ugh. I pay taxes every year in the US. They haven't fixed a big pothole outside my house on the road in years, and yet every year we allocate more and more money for military spending. It's a old argument, i know, i know. But honestly now.....i have just all the more incentive to cheat on my taxes.
    • by Joebert (946227)
      It would be pretty fucked up if fixing the pothole yourself wasn't tax deductable.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      ....yyyyes, because the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT is in charge of fixing that pothole, and is diverting the money to the military instead...

      You do understand the difference between local and federal government, right? Because I had a pothole on the road near my house, took all of 2 days for it to get filled. But I suppose my local government isn't incompetent...
  • by centuren (106470) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @07:56AM (#25083985) Homepage Journal

    Put all objections and concerns aside for a second.

    Honestly, isn't stuff like this why we all went into computer science and engineering in the first place? Crazy sci-fi ideas that have little to no practical value in the short (and often long) term.

    Don't stop chasing the dream!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Whiteox (919863)

      Honestly, isn't stuff like this why we all went into computer science

      I went into computer science for the girls........

  • I urge you to read this book for an account of the lengths army will go to in researching stuff like this.

  • Dear aunt, (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20, 2008 @08:11AM (#25084051)

    let's set so double the killer select all.

  •       If DARPA gets this technology then it will be used keep women out of combat.

          A means to read women's minds is beyond the possibility of any science!

  • When can I apply to fly the new Veritech fighter?
  • so what frequency do i use to control the soldiers, listen in on them, or jam thier signals?

    hope their crypto is good.

    • by Pichu0102 (916292)

      Use the frequency 140.85, they'll listen to whatever comes down that line no matter what.

  • ...The name "Firefox" is taken.

    rj

  • by purpleraison (1042004) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @09:52AM (#25084515) Homepage Journal

    ...one of the soldiers gets a tune stuck in his head?

    All the rest of the soldiers will hear his mental rendition of "Never gonna give you up" by Rick Astley.

    Not a pretty sight. Do we really want to live in a world where you can be MENTALLY Rick-rolled?

    I don't think so.

  • ALS (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bigattichouse (527527) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @09:53AM (#25084519) Homepage
    My late father in law (2004) could have used something like this for speech, ALS effectively cut him off completely for the last month or two of his life.
  • Quote: 'Because soldiers are already trained to talk in clean, clear and formulaic ways, it would be a very small step to have them think that way.'

    There is a difference between TALKING and THINKING. I suspect some rather HEAVY training will have to be involved, else, it could make for hilarious slips of the "ahem" mind/tongue!

    Mouth says: Aye Aye SIR!
    But Mind Really Thinks: F**k you and the horse you rode in SIR!

    • by Dun Malg (230075)

      There is a difference between TALKING and THINKING.

      Not when you're talking about monitoring the speech center of the brain.

      I suspect some rather HEAVY training will have to be involved

      The idea is that it will pick up certain sub-vocalized keywords and string together the appropriate canned audio fragments. It'd take less training than using voice dial on your cell phone.

  • It's a nice Saturday, so I thought I'd share some light reading with everybody; I've uploaded in its entirety a copy of Walter Bowart's Operation Mind Control [sharebee.com] for anybody who wants to read it. (It's a text-searchable PDF scan of the book. Thanks to whoever scanned it.)

    This book was derived largely from papers acquired through the FOIA, and it is quite clear about how advanced the military was in the field of mind-control and mind-reading. (Skip ahead to chapter 18 after you take a moment to read the au

  • "Max, put on the Helmet of Silence and get out there!"
  • "I need air support at killer delete select all"
  • Its also called a tinfoil hat.
  • Somebody's sucking hard on the research teat. Anyone who knows "brain waves" worth a damn knows that different people have entirely different EEG profiles in general, in dynamic response and in contextual/environmental response. Trying to find an EEG response consistent enough to be used in a device that can be slapped on any head (GIs don't have time to train their brain helmets every morning) is going to suck up all US$4M and then some and still have its empty hand out.

    Why all this golly gee whiz hand wa

  • Imagine the uses of this if combined with interrogation and lie detector.. Hell imagine if the wife or GF could get access to of on of these to "discuss" the relationship. Where you looking at that woman at the gas station ? .. in many cases you'd be exonerated, in some cases busted.. probably a lot of thoughts like "jeezus, not again, god I hate this crap".
  • What happens when these helmets are rootkitted, and they start playing pop-up ads directly into the soldiers' brains while idle?

    Hmmm....

    3. Profit!!!

  • "Time Magazine reports on a $4 million US Army contract to begin developing 'thought helmets' to harness silent brain waves for secure communication among troops that the Army hopes will 'lead to direct mental control of military systems by thought alone, as well as consolidate control of the troops themselves."
  • Hillarious (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bender0x7D1 (536254) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:43PM (#25087887)

    'Because soldiers are already trained to talk in clean, clear and formulaic ways, it would be a very small step to have them think that way.'

    HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA

    It's been a long time since I had as good a laugh as when I read that statement.

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