If you’ve seen ‘The Matrix’, you’re probably very familiar with the famous “I know Kung Fu” scene. In fact, it was reproduced and parodied so much that you might be familiar with the scene even if you didn’t watch the movie. Anyway, to refresh your memory, in ‘The Matrix’ you could learn a whole skillset by simply having it uploaded to your brain.
Of course, people found it instantly amazing. Who wouldn’t want to skip years, if not decades of learning and just become all of a sudden an expert in Tai Chi, nuclear physics, and cake decorating? Well, despite their claims, a team of researchers from California invented a device that isn’t quite like ‘The Matrix’ instant learning technology.
While in the movie the characters could learn those skills instantly because they had built-in not-USB ports, we kind of lack those in real life. And we also lack the neural-technological interface that allowed for the upload, although DARPA will soon start working on that, if they haven’t already.
Since an instant upload still is impossible, the researchers decided to go a different route. Instead of transmitting you the whole skill set, what if they showed your brain how it feels to know that skill set? For this, the researchers from the HRL Information and System Sciences Laboratory in California employed a biological trait called neuro-plasticity.
According to Dr. Matthew Phillips, lead author of the study,
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. What our system does is it actually targets those changes to specific regions of the brain as you learn.
By recording the neural activity of a group of pilot experts while flying in a simulator and then reproducing the same neural activity in the brains of novices via a scalp-cap that transmits electrical impulses, the scientists showed the brains of the pilots what it felt like to have that particular skillset.
Of course, the learning wasn’t instant, not by any measure, but according to the team the groups of novice pilots who undertook the procedure were able to learn it 33% better and faster than the placebo group. This means that the technique might actually have some potential.
Of course, additional testing by other science peers has to be performed in order to gauge the accuracy of the claim, as well as the efficiency of the procedure. But if turns out to work just as well as the team behind it claims to work, the new technology might soon see huge amounts of funding invested into it, despite it being basically a more targeted form of electroshock therapy.
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