The U.S. Department of Defense is trying to figure out how the human brain works.
As a field agent, it is crucial to learn languages fast. This takes a lot of time and training, and the DoD wants to create a way to make it easier for their agents to do their job.
So, as a means to figure out how the human brain learns foreign languages, the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA) has just given eight elite teams a combined sum of $50 million to discover how the nervous system can facilitate learning.
Scientists and researchers believe that humans learn through all their senses. Studies show that 83% of human learning occurs visually, 11% through hearing, 3.5% via smell, 1.5% with touch, and 1% through taste. With this in mind, DARPA researchers are looking directly to neurotransmitters to see if they hold the answer to all their questions.
All eight teams will work together on a four-year program known as the Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT) to search and hone in on the optimal levels of neurostimulation methods that will activate synaptic plasticity. Synaptic plasticity is how the brain synapses strengthen or weaken, and how these patterns create memories and learn new things.
DARPA’s target is pretty optimistic, as they are looking to see a 30% improvement in learning rates compared to their existing training methods. They believe that the expertise of their engineers has the potential to even surpass this goal.
“The Defence 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,” says bioengineer and manager of the TNT program Doug Weber, to Science Alert.
DARPA’s electronic device will work in three stages. Their neurostimulation device will activate the peripheral nerves, which then stimulates synaptic plasticity, then neuronal connections are refined as a method to improve a person’s communication skills.
According to Slash Gear, the eight different teams will utilize non-invasive techniques, along with an invasive brain implant, on animals and human volunteers. All side effects will be monitored, including the viewpoint on the ethics of artificial learning.
This impressive innovation may be in part due to the numerous advancements within the circuit board industry. Circuit boards are responsible for connecting electrical signals to the component, and due to recent breakthroughs in the industry, these complex boards can now be made in five days or less, at a 75% faster time than the industry average.
DARPA is quick to point out that despite other similar brain research in the area, they are hoping that they can find out how to naturally advance people’s natural capacities of learning.