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The Military Communications Science Technology

US Army To Develop "Thought Helmets" 226

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 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.

  • 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 gazita123 ( 589586 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:42AM (#25083535)
    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.
  • by gowen ( 141411 ) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:42AM (#25083539) Homepage Journal

    I don't see the point of thought helmets for the Army, if the Commander-in-Chief is still incapable of coherent thought.

  • by tulcod ( 1056476 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @05:44AM (#25083543)

    indeed. "thinking in language" is not really true, the language part is only a small part of your brain you can actually think without, even if you "think in language" (as opposed to in images and stuff). and even "thinking in images" is not really true. so the net result is that it's oversimplified by some inscientific people. your brain looks a lot like a PC: you can distinguish certain elements, but none of them work with the exact same type of data

  • by darkmeridian ( 119044 ) <william@chuang.gmail@com> 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 Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20, 2008 @06:14AM (#25083649)

    This seems pretty straight forward. If you can use a feedback mechanism, you can learn different mental exercises that stimulate different parts of the brain, and thus generate repeatable signals that can be picked up. Then it's a matter of training and sequencing. It's not reading minds though.

  • Re:Oxymoron (Score:5, Insightful)

    by justinlee37 ( 993373 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @06:37AM (#25083725)
    Nobody was trying to call it military wisdom or anything. War is one of the best funded "industries" around the world, and it's organizers are dedicated strategists. There's nothing unintelligent about them, regardless of your opinions on whether or not they're misguided.
  • Re:Too cheap? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wisty ( 1335733 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @06:42AM (#25083739)
    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.
  • Protection (Score:2, Insightful)

    by NewsLeech ( 1217678 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @07:21AM (#25083849)
    I already have a thought helmet. I made it out of tin foil.
  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd DOT bandrowsky AT gmail DOT 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 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 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!

  • by pixel fairy ( 898 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @09:00AM (#25084269)

    so what frequency do i use to control the soldiers, listen in on them, or jam thier signals?

    hope their crypto is good.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 20, 2008 @09:58AM (#25084549)
    ....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 DrYak ( 748999 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @11:06AM (#25084971) Homepage

    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 communication.

    It is all based on the fact that soldiers during combat tend to use a small subset of well defined mil-speak keywords (makes sense because a small set of keywords that everyone knows is really handy in a situation where taking the time to say "Sorry, I'm afraid I didn't exactly get what you were saying, could you please clarify your last sentence ?" isn't exactly an option)*.
    Given that, teaching them to use a small subset of though-helmet-compatible mental commands won't seem far fetch.

    An activation and/or confirmation button (Grendizer-style :-P ), to avoid false positive could help too.

    So in fact its not very far from your idea of using a "morse-code like" coded mental command set.


    For the record full speech won't be that much difficult either, as long as we don't try to pick it up from the brain.
    Unlike the psychology and neurology of sentence formation witch is awfully complex, the biomechanics of speech are well understood.
    For example, its well used for both speech synthesis software, and speech-specialized low bandwidth codec - in both of these situation speech isn't considered as a generic sound wave, but as a combination of the various resonance mode that a human larynx can generate.
    One possible way to get silent speech transmission would be to pick up the motor commands of someone whispering or even voiceless articulating and infere what it would sound like if it was voiced.
    The only problem are mainly practical (picking brain signals from the helmet is easier that having to make a complex rig over the soldier's neck and face muscles) and correct recognition (there are a lot of sounds which are articulated the same way but sound different depending on how the speaker voices them - voiced/unvoiced consonants and such. If the silent speak is silent indeed, the voicing information will be missing)


    *: And here in Switzerland it's even worse as there are 4 official spoken language, of which the main one (German) is actually a grouped bunch of not exactly mutually intelligible dialects. Just imagine the mess. Thankfully, we never had to go to war for more than a century.

  • by tulcod ( 1056476 ) on Saturday September 20, 2008 @03:35PM (#25086913)

    What I am trying to say is that your question is irrelevant. There is no global "stuff of thought". You can't say for your entire brain what a certain "bit" indicates, how it is used, or even if it is used. How, when and if they're used depends on too many factors, and it all comes down to the fact that the actual thoughts (which stretch over millions of neurons) don't have a common "syntax" or anything like that.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!