Soldiers barking orders at each other is so 20th Century. That's why the U.S. Army has just awarded a $4 million contract to begin developing "thought helmets" that would harness silent brain waves for secure communication among troops. Ultimately, the Army hopes the project will "lead to direct mental control of military systems by thought alone."
If this sounds insane, it would have been as recently as a few years ago. But improvements in computing power and a better understanding of how the brain works have scientists busy hunting for the distinctive neural fingerprints that flash through a brain when a person is talking to himself. The Army's initial goal is to capture those brain waves with incredibly sophisticated software that then 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."
B-movie buffs may recall that Clint Eastwood used similar "brain-computer interface" technology in 1982's Firefox, named for the Soviet fighter plane whose weapons were controlled by the pilot's thoughts. (Clint was sent to steal the plane, natch.) Yet it's not as far-fetched as you might think: video gamers are eagerly awaiting a crude commercial version of brain wave technology -- a $299 headset from San Francisco-based Emotiv Systems -- in summer 2009.
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