DARPA's New Mind-Reading Binoculars Are Scary-Efficient At Identifying Enemies

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Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios

Remember Tony Stark's augmented reality lenses from the Iron Man movies -- the ones that separated civilians from hostiles, so the Iron Man knew whom to target? What about Luke Skywalker's binoculars from Star Wars, which could automatically detect threats from further away than human eyes could see?

Now such threat-detecting devices aren't just the fantasy of films. The U.S. military is developing binoculars that read the user's own subconscious brainwaves to help identify threats from afar.

The goggles, announced this week by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, have been given the clunky name "Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System" -- or CT2WS for short.

So if you're the military's main research and development branch, what do you do to help soldiers in combat more easier spot enemies? First, build a "120 megapixel camera capable of scanning across 120 degrees of view" to replace your soldier's conventional binoculars, according to The Register. These can take multiple images with each scan and feed them to a software program to identify potential threats. Next, if you're DARPA, quickly become frustrated, because nearly half the "threats" the best software program identifies aren't threats at all, making them effectively useless for soldiers in the field.

But then, have a great idea.

"CT2WS built on the concept that humans are inherently adept at detecting the unusual," the DARPA announcement of the threat-detection system reads. In less vague terms, this means that clever DARPA engineers had the idea to attach the binoculars to an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap, which actually "monitors brain signals in real-time." The brainwaves and pictures snapped by the binoculars are transmitted to a laptop or another powerful computer, which crunches the data and flags noteworthy images that contain enemies lurking in the distance.

The addition of the EEG cap has cut the false-positive rate from 47 percent to only 9 percent. Add to that commercial radar, and the system is 100 percent effective in identifying enemies in field tests, DARPA claims.

How does this work so well? It turns out humans can accurately perceive such threats -- just not consciously. Our unconscious minds are very good at sorting enemy soldiers from unusually-shaped bushes. This means that if you show a soldier an image of a far-away 'something', the soldier may not be able to tell you whether it's a bush or combatant -- but show him the image for a tenth of a second, and the subconscious mind will fire off a distinctive brainwave called a "P-300" when the 'something' seems like a threat.

DARPA said in 2007 that the binoculars should have a range of "1,000 to 10,000 meters" and be able to spot moving vehicles from up to 6 miles away, according to Wired.

This is not the first EEG-enabled device that has been announced this year: Recently EEG seems to have hit its stride, with NeuroSky's popular Necomimi toy hitting stores and scientists at the University of California at Irvine announcing the first successful test of mind-controlled robotic legs.

Humans be warned: we're now one step closer to becoming cyborgs.

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