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US says the next war will be all in our minds

Neuroscientists, anthropologists take to the trenches

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The US needs to draft in psychopharmacologists, neuroscientists and even goateed cultural studies experts to fight 21 century wars that will be largely in the mind.

A report commissioned by the Defense Intelligence Agency on Emerging Cognitive Neuroscience and Related Technologies predicts a freakish future of advances in neurosciences, and that the US will forget about the battle for the hearts and head straight for the mind.

Advances in functional neuroimaging, for example, will mean the US would literally be able to get into its enemies heads, without necessarily blowing open the heads concerned – those it can lay its hands on anyway. Advance functional neuroimaging are “likely to be deployed in areas such as business, human performance, risk assessment, legal applications, intelligence and the military”, it predicts.

In a conflict context, neurotechnology could “provide insight into intelligence from captured military combatants…to screen terrorism suspects at checkpoints” and the like. It could also be used for the training of the US’ own troops of course.

This will tie in with advances in the detection of psychological states, and the boffins seem particularly interested in how detecting lies might help the US achieve its ends. (So, Vlad, you don’t really want to invade Georgia/Ukraine/Lativia/insert here.)

And once you understand brain states, you’ll of course want to be able to alter them – theirs and yours of course. The report says this will be achieved with new drugs and, more importantly, new ways of delivering them.

The robo-soldier - or as the report puts it distributed human machine system - gets a look-in too. Advances here are likely to come in the form of direct brain-machine interfaces, robotic prosthetics and orthotics, cognitive and sensory prosthetics promising sensory substitution and enhancement, and software and robotic assistants. The report predicts that distributed human machine systems will only be limited by the imagination, and we’re sure they’ll have developed a drug to deal with that soon enough.

While many of these scientific battle fields are areas where the US might be thought to already have a lead, the boffins seem anxious about how much of an edge it actually has. The report points out that when it comes to computational biology and its applications to neuroscience etc. “much of the world is now on par or ahead of the United States”.

At the other end of the spectrum, it warns that on the robowarrior front, research has been “hampered by unrealistic programs driven by specific short term DoD and intelligence objectives”. It also references the “low priority” some of these areas have within the intelligence community.

Another surprise, perhaps, is the importance attached to the “cultural underpinnings of neuroscience”, even going so far as to suggest that “basic and applied social science research into … culture” can help the intelligence community to understand where the technology is going.

This includes using a touch of cultural understanding to anticipate how groups and individuals will react in given situations. For example, research into intercultural management and leadership can warn IC and national security analysts not to assume that western theories can be universally applied.” Who’d have thought it?

Ultimately, it recommends that investment be directed to “neuroscience research on the effects of culture on human cognition with special attention to the relationship between culture and brain development”. So, if nothing else, countries on the wrong end of the US's temper can expect a little bit more understanding in future – at least until the Pentagon develops a pill that’ll turn us all into McDonalds-eating Paris-tards as a prelude to a new era of Pax Americana. ®

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