Air Force seeks computer-brain interface

Air Force researchers are actively working on creating an interface between the human brain and computers to improve airmen’s ability to learn and make more rapid, effective decisions.

AFRL recently announced its efforts in developing an “augmented learning platform” to essentially non-invasively make the brain more receptive to soaking up information in the process of learning.

Dubbed the individualized neural learning system, or iNeuraLS, the project is a three-year proof-of-concept that builds on the AFRL’s ongoing research in neuromodulation and brain learning states.

It’s being funded by the Seedlings for Disruptive Capabilities Program, which recently awarded between $3 million and $5 million each to seven different projects. These projects fall under the Air Force Science & Technology Strategy objectives, which seek to make the branch a leader in global science innovation.

The iNeuraLS project is a collaborative effort between AFRL and several industry partners — Microsoft Research, the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Sonera Magnetics and Teledyne Technologies — which will offer assistance with virtual and augmented reality platforms and artificial intelligence for machine learning.

It all begins by creating a “novel hybrid brain-machine interface,” said Nathaniel Reese Bridges, AFRL’s neural interface team lead.

It’s a fancy way of saying AFRL is building a system to be able to extract brain signals and other physiological readings in real time to determine a person’s brain learning state, Bridges told Air Force Times.

Harnessing similar technology to treat veterans for migraine headaches and post-traumatic stress, AFRL is working to first understand the brain patterns of their subjects and then work to alter those patterns.

“It has an anti-anxiety effect and we’ve actually seen reductions in anxiety with our healthy people as well,” said Dr. Andy McKinley, AFRL cognitive neuroscience lead. “And so that’s another feature that could be helpful, you reduce test taking anxiety and hopefully also produce better performance there as well. But the technology is similar.”

The project will use neuromodulation to not only help reduce anxiety but also reduce fatigue, something the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been researching.

“We see, basically, stimulant-like effects where we get these long lasting — of around 12 hours after stimulation of beneficial after-effect,” McKinley told Air Force Times. “And so, we know with our trainees, they get exhausted from the high-paced training that they endure. So, this could also help with reducing the fatigue burden.”

But stimulating the brain to reduce fatigue has to be tailored to the individual, McKinley said.

“You don’t want to take a bunch of caffeine right when you’re trying to take a nap or something, you’ve got to be smart about where and when, how, you’re delivering stimulation,” McKinley said.

The study is still being developed and will eventually pull some 20 to 30 subjects per group — with several groups focusing on different aspects of the project — from the 711th Human Performance Wing.

Eventually, iNeuraLS could extend its learning frameworks into virtual reality.

“There’s a lot of great work being done to develop technology that surrounds the human being, but we can’t forget the human beings themselves,” Bridges said. “We’re already on our phones all the time. And I think the more that we can create these linkages the better, then, we can work together.”

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