By Mark Molloy
Published in Telegraph on 1 March, 2016
Feeding knowledge directly into your brain, just like in sci-fi classic The Matrix, could soon take as much effort as falling asleep, scientists believe. Researchers claim to have developed a simulator which can feed information directly into a person’s brain and teach them new skills in a shorter amount of time, comparing it to “life imitating art”. They believe it could be the first steps in developing advanced software that will make Matrix-style instant learning a reality. In the neo-noir sci-fi classic, protagonist Neo is able to learn kung fu in seconds after the martial art is ‘uploaded’ straight to his brain.
Researchers from HRL Laboratories, based in California, say they have found a way to amplify learning, only on a much smaller scale than seen in the Hollywood film. They studied the electric signals in the brain of a trained pilot and then fed the data into novice subjects as they learned to pilot an aeroplane in a realistic flight simulator. The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that subjects who received brain stimulation via electrode-embedded head caps improved their piloting abilities and learnt the task 33 per cent better than a placebo group.
“Our system is one of the first of its kind. It’s a brain stimulation system,” explained Dr Matthew Phillips. “It sounds kind of sci-fi, but there’s large scientific basis for the development of our system. “The specific task we were looking at was piloting an aircraft, which requires a synergy of both cognitive and motor performance. “When you learn something, your brain physically changes. Connections are made and strengthened in a process called neuro-plasticity. “It turns out that certain functions of the brain, like speech and memory, are located in very specific regions of the brain, about the size of your pinky.” Dr Matthews believes that brain stimulation could eventually be implemented for tasks like learning to drive, exam preparation and language learning. “What our system does is it actually targets those changes to specific regions of the brain as you learn,” he added. “The method itself is actually quite old. In fact, the ancient Egyptians 4000 years ago used electric fish to stimulate and reduce pain. “Even Ben Franklin applied currents to his head, but the rigorous, scientific investigation of these methods started in the early 2000s and we’re building on that research to target and personalize a stimulation in the most effective way possible. “Your brain is going to be very different to my brain when we perform a task. What we found is … brain stimulation seems to be particularly effective at actually improving learning.”
‘Humans will upgrade themselves continuously’
Bits of exoskeleton hanging by the front door will make you faster and stronger. Those who can afford it will have better eyesight and hearing. – Tamar Kasriel, founder and MD of Futureal
‘Poverty and hunger have been all but eliminated – by Uber’
Uber, the world’s premier logistics, transportation, and energy company, has entirely eliminated urban “food islands” in developed areas of the world. – Mark Drapeau, head of content, World Future Society; editor, The Futurist
‘You’ll be able to purchase high-quality emotions online’
Emotion-sharing experiences are the latest fad in 2045. Imagine your friend at Glastonbury can post a photo on Instagram and with it comes bundled a faint twinkling of what she was feeling right there in that moment. – Alex Ayad, head of Imperial College London’s Tech Foresight Practice
‘Your car will be able to read your feelings’
Machines will be able to sense and then adapt themselves to the emotional state of a user. If a car decides you are angry and in danger of driving unsafely, it might adapt itself to make things safer.
– Richard Watson, futurist, writer, founder of online magazine What’s Next