Downloading knowledge straight into your brain has been a dream for many, from scientists who want to learn new disciplines to high school kids who think Cliff Notes are too much work. And, at least for some tasks, it may be possible, at least if a new announcement has any merit.
A team from HRL Laboratories studied the brainwaves of a trained pilot, carefully recording his brain activity. Then they designed a cap that would stimulate those parts of the brain as novice pilots used simulators to learn how to fly. The group wearing the stimulator cap advanced a third quicker than the control group. Of note, though, they had to consistently practice to get the improved results and keep practicing on the simulator to make the gains stick. Drinking beer, despite reports, sadly will not help.
That’s an eyebrow-raising result, but HRL Laboratories is about as legit as it gets. It built the first working laser, back in the ’60s, and recently discovered the world’s lightest material. If anybody can credibly state they’ve built a hat that gives you more skills, it’s these guys.
That said, though, there are a few questions to be answered. Not even HRL thinks this will lead to, say, downloading the entirety of Shakespeare into your brain, at least not for a while. The device doesn’t affect memory, it just stimulates the construction of neural pathways, so it’s better suited to tasks that require building those pathways, like learning a new language or driving a car. We’ll also need to carefully study how this affects the brain, as quickly picking up new skills isn’t really worth the cost of permanent brain damage. There’s also the matter of physical limits; Neo might know kung-fu, but notice he never has to take a shot at somebody outside The Matrix.
Still, it’s a fascinating breakthrough, and one that might have enormous implications for certain skill sets. Sooner than you think, picking up new job skills might be as simple as slapping on a hat. Other tasks, like understanding sarcasm, alas, will just have to be done the hard way.
(Via the Telegraph)