Aug 27, 2020
The Department of Defense is developing brain-computer interface technology that allows the brain to communicate directly with machines. This technology may eventually be used, for example, to monitor a soldier's cognitive workload, control a drone swarm, or link with a prosthetic. However, the breadth of potential applications should be studied systematically, and policy, safety, legal, and ethical issues must be addressed before deployment.
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The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has invested in the development of technologies that allow the human brain to communicate directly with machines, including the development of implantable neural interfaces able to transfer data between the human brain and the digital world. This technology, known as brain-computer interface (BCI), may eventually be used to monitor a soldier's cognitive workload, control a drone swarm, or link with a prosthetic, among other examples. Further technological advances could support human-machine decisionmaking, human-to-human communication, system control, performance enhancement and monitoring, and training. However, numerous policy, safety, legal, and ethical issues should be evaluated before the technology is widely deployed. With this report, the authors developed a methodology for studying potential applications for emerging technology. This included developing a national security game to explore the use of BCI in combat scenarios; convening experts in military operations, human performance, and neurology to explore how the technology might affect military tactics, which aspects may be most beneficial, and which aspects might present risks; and offering recommendations to policymakers. The research assessed current and potential BCI applications for the military to ensure that the technology responds to actual needs, practical realities, and legal and ethical considerations.