MAR 16, 2016 7:28 AM PDT

Have Neuroscientists Discovered The Matrix?

Recent news about a scientific breakthrough that could allow skills to be uploaded directly to the brain, like in the hit film "The Matrix" is causing a stir in the field of neuroscience. A research facility in California, HRL Laboratories, has announced that it has developed a program that could teach someone with no experience how to pilot a plane, in a simulator at least. Their process involves transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and the claim is that passing a constant low electrical current through a skull cap to regions in the brain that are responsible for learning could mean almost instant skill acquistion.
Can scientist upload skills directly to the brain?
In a press release lead researcher Matthew Phillips of HRL said, "We measured the brain activity patterns of six commercial and military pilots, and then transmitted these patterns into novice subjects as they learned to pilot an airplane in a realistic flight simulator.” 
 
While it sounds like the method has been found to upload any kind of learning directly to the brain as in the The Matrix, there are a few concerns with this most recent research. The first is the journal that published it. The journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience has had to retract papers recently published for having bad data or computational errors. In addition, it is a journal that accepts payment for publishing research. 
 
Another issue is a conflict of interest. The test subjects were all employees of HRL Laboratories and while none were directly supervised by the study investigators, the work was all completed at the company during normal business hours. Also, while the study states “the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.” HRL has applied for a patent for the technology used in the study which could be construed as having a vested interest in a positive outcome. 
 
In an interview with George Dvorsky for Gizmodo, Mark S. George, a professor of psychiatry, radiology, and neurosciences at the Medical University of South Carolina, and editor-in-chief of the science journal Brain Stimulation, said it was “a small sample study in vulnerable employees, performed by scientists with patents pending that will be influenced by the outcome.  This area is quite controversial, with positive studies getting published more frequently than failed trials, creating a publication bias. If there is an effect here in this study, the tDCS merely improved the ability of the subjects to learn. There was no transfer of information through the brain stimulation.”
 
A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Brain Stimulation in June 2015 looked at a much larger sample and found  “Of 42 replicated cognitive outcome measures included in 59 analyses, tDCS has a significant effect on zero. There appears to be no reliable effect of tDCS on executive function, language, memory, or miscellaneous measures.”
 
Take a look at the discussion in the video below to learn more about tDCS and what it could mean for the future. For now, it remains questionable on what benefit it might have for learning.
 
 
About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
You May Also Like
FEB 28, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
FEB 28, 2020
How Dietary Supplement Citicoline Improves Memory
For some time now, Citicoline has been known for its ability to improve memory and reduce cognitive decline. A primary i ...
MAR 11, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
MAR 11, 2020
Recreational Cannabis Use May Curtail Brain Development in Under 25's
As cannabis is becoming more and more popular in the US and beyond, more and more attention is being directed to its lon ...
APR 26, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
APR 26, 2020
Does Poor Sleep Lead to Obesity, or is the Opposite True?
For many years, researchers have been aware of the link between obesity and poor sleep or a lack of sleep. But what come ...
APR 26, 2020
Neuroscience
APR 26, 2020
Can you Get PTSD from the COVID-19 Pandemic?
Following a traumatic experience, some experience intense flashbacks, nightmares, irritability, anger and fear. Key symp ...
MAY 03, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
MAY 03, 2020
How One Protein is Linked to Three Different Brain Disorders
The accumulation of aberrant, misfolded proteins is a known feature of several different kinds of brain diseases.
MAY 04, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
MAY 04, 2020
Can Cannabis Improve Chronic Insomnia?
Around 30% of Americans have insomnia. A serious problem, researchers have found that cannabis products may be able to h ...
Loading Comments...