Scientists Imitate ‘The Matrix’ Enhancing Learning Skills With Brain Stimulation

Anyone who has ever wished they could “upload” skills – just like Keanu Reeves’ character Neo in The Matrix trilogy – will be pleased to hear this may, in the future, be a real thing.

For instance, you might want to learn Spanish or some other foreign language, and this can take years of study and practice to get it really right. According to scientists, in the not so far away future this could become a whole lot easier, thanks to some experiments that have been run by a laboratory in California.

Scientists at HRL Laboratories LLC have been working to make real life imitate art, very much in the style of The Matrix, by developing what is termed low-current electrical brain stimulation to modulate a person’s learning of complex, real-world skills. This can be used for learning how to drive a car, pilot a plane, learn new languages, and so on.

Dr. Matthew Phillips and a team of investigators at HRL’s Information & System Sciences Laboratory have been experimenting with transcranial direct current stimulation (or tDCS) to enhance their test subjects’ learning capabilities and skill retention process.

Much like Keanu Reeves’ character Neo in the Matrix films when he “uploaded” a whole load of necessary martial art skills to fight that insidious enemy, a similar function was used to improve the skills of students learning how to pilot a plane.

What they did was to measure the brain activity patterns of six experienced military and commercial pilots. The scientists then transmitted those patterns into the brains of novice subjects, while they were using a realistic flight simulator program to learn how to pilot an aircraft.

According to the study – which has been published in the February 2016 issue of the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience – the test subjects who received the brain simulation via the tDCS program, using electrode-embedded head caps, improved their piloting abilities as compared to those who were not subjected to the experiment.

Dr. Phillips said: “We measured the average g-force of the plane during the simulated landing and compared it to control subjects who received a mock brain stimulation.”

According to the Mirror Online, results showed the novices subjected to the tDCS program were able to learn the task 33 percent better than those in the placebo group, who received no such stimulation.

Reportedly, previous research has shown the benefits of tDCS when used with stroke victims to help them recover more rapidly. Now HRL have taken the study quite a bit further to show that tDCS is also effective in accelerating the learning of practical skills.

As the process has the potential to increase learning via brain stimulation, Dr. Phillips speculates this could eventually become a commonplace practice.

“As we discover more about optimizing, personalizing, and adapting brain stimulation protocols, we’ll likely see these technologies become routine in training and classroom environments.”

Dr. Phillips added that it is possible that brain stimulation using tDCS could also be implemented in various classes like SAT prep, drivers’ training and, of course, learning a new language.

Readers can listen to Dr. Phillips of HRL as he speaks about the experiments and the processes used to enhance the trainee pilot’s learning skills in the video below.

He explains that, when you learn something, your brain physically changes. New connections are made and strengthened in a process called “neuro-plasticity.” Dr. Phillips and Jaehoon Choe, a research scientist, go on to outline how this can assist in the process of learning to fly a plane, which requires a combination of cognitive and motor performance.

[Photo via YouTube]