Military Readying Mind-Reading Equipment for the Battlefield

Mind reading devices that can alert soldiers to things they've seen, but that their brains aren't yet aware of, could save lives. Some scientists worry it could also extend the theater of war. 

What's the Latest Development?

It takes the brain several seconds to become conscious of what the eyes see, and in Afghanistan, a precious few seconds can mean the difference between life and death. So the Pentagon's experimental R&D wing is working on a device it calls Sentinel, which is capable of shortcutting the mind's circuitry by recognizing what is called a P300, i.e. a specific brain wave that identifies a subconscious recognition of a visual object. Once the device recognizes that a soldier's brain is subconsciously aware of a potentially dangerous object, such as a glint of metal signifying a potential IED, it can visually alert him or her to pay attention to the object, making soldiers aware of what they've seen just 300 milliseconds after first receiving the image.  

What's the Big Idea?

Experts say the military's mind-reading technology is substantially more advanced than commercial applications, which could ultimately help amputees to control their prosthetic limbs and drivers to detect dangers on the roads, thus making cars safer. Some scientist have also expressed concern that use of the technology by the military could expand the theater of war by allowing even more novel uses of remotely-operated drones. The 'holy grail' of such technology would be a device that actually reads human thoughts, not just recognizing that they are present. But developers of the technology admit they are generations away from that achievement. 

Photo credit:

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less
Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less

The culprit of increased depression among teens? Smartphones, new research suggests.

A new study, led by psychologist Jean Twenge, points to the screen as the problem.

A teenager eyes her smartphone as people enjoy a warm day on the day of silence, one day prior to the presidential elections, when candidates and political parties are not allowed to voice their political meaning on April 14, 2018 in Kotor, Montenegro. Citizens from Montenegro, the youngest NATO member, will vote for a new president on Sunday 15 2018. (Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images)
Surprising Science
  • In a new study, adolescents and young adults are experiencing increased rates of depression and suicide attempts.
  • The data cover the years 2005–2017, tracking perfectly with the introduction of the iPhone and widespread dissemination of smartphones.
  • Interestingly, the highest increase in depressive incidents was among individuals in the top income bracket.
Keep reading Show less

U.S. reacts to New Zealand's gun ban

On Thursday, New Zealand moved to ban an array of semi-automatic guns and firearms components following a mass shooting that killed 50 people.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Gun control supporters are pointing to the ban as an example of swift, decisive action that the U.S. desperately needs.
  • Others note the inherent differences between the two nations, arguing that it is a good thing that it is relatively hard to pass such legislation in such a short timeframe.
  • The ban will surely shape future conversations about gun control in the U.S.
Keep reading Show less