DARPA Unveils Plan to Strengthen Soldiers’ Cognitive Function

human-2099157_960_7201111The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency recently announced a bold new plan to accelerate soldiers’ learning abilities and improve their overall cognitive function.

Dubbed the Targeted Neuroplasticity Training (TNT) program, it may sound like something out of a science-fiction movie, but officials are already working towards making it a reality. The project consists of eight separately funded research studies that seek to “enhance learning and accelerate training skills.” More specifically, it will use the human body’s peripheral nervous system to meet these goals.

According to various press releases, the TNT program will activate a cognitive process known as synaptic plasticity, all while using electrical stimulation. In order for this to happen, though, researchers must first identify the specific physiological processes that stimulate the brain’s learning process. In other words, DARPA researchers are trying to find out what makes the human brain “learn something.” Using this information, they can theoretically mimic the process to enhance soldiers’ learning abilities and cognitive function — at least that’s the goal of the TNT program.

From a more realistic perspective, however, the TNT program could yield some real-world benefits, such as the ability to learn foreign languages in less time and with a higher level of proficiency. According to the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute, it takes approximately 4,400 hours to learn a new language. But if DARPA is able to identify what triggers learning, perhaps they could stimulate and accelerate this process. Who knows, maybe we could one day learn new languages in just a few hours hours?

DARPA is approaching the study of synaptic plasticity from multiple angles to determine whether there are safe and responsible ways to enhance learning and accelerate training for skills relevant to national security missions,” said Doug Weber, TNT Program Manager.

So, which organizations are working towards completing the TNT project? DARPA has awarded more than half a dozen contracts related to the project to various universities throughout the country, including Arizona State University, the University of Florida, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, the University of Wisconsin, and the Wright State University.

There’s still no word on when or even if the TNT project will be complete, but it’s certainly a bold idea nonetheless.

What do you think of DARPA’s TNT project?