Anyone who has ever watched a sci-fi film and wished they could upload information to their brain in seconds could be in luck.
Scientists have developed a way of amplifying learning in a way that almost mimics the methods used in The Matrix.
In the film, Neo – played by Keanu Reeves – has a range of kung-fu skills ‘uploaded’ directly into his brain in just a few seconds.
Experts working at the HRL Information and System Sciences Laboratory in California, have been able to do the same thing, albeit on a lesser scale.
By studying electric signals in the brain of a trained pilot, and feeding that data into an unskilled person through a electric scalp-cap, novices were able to learn the task 33% better than the placebo group.
Dr Matthew Phillips said: “Our system is one of the first of its kind. It’s a brain stimulation system.
“It sounds kind of sci-fi, but there’s large scientific basis for the development of our system.
“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.
“The method itself is actually quite old. In fact, the ancient Egyptians 4,000 years ago used electric fish to stimulate and reduce pain.
“Even Ben Franklin applied currents to his head, but the rigorous, scientific investigation of these method started in the early 2000s and we’re building on that research to target and personalise a stimulation in the most effective way possible.
“Your brain is going to be very different to my brain when we performs a task. What we found is, that in specific circumstances, brain stimulation seems to be particularly effective at actually improving learning.”
The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, invited expert pilots to perform the experiments to test their brain activity when using a flight simulator.
They then replicated the brain states of the expert in the novice, who had never done the task before.
Dr Phillips went on: “We were able to take a group of individuals and train them to a similar level.
“The method relies on physical contact with the scalp – a head-cap through conductive gel to apply the current to the skin.
“The effects can persist for hours. The effects take days or weeks of practice to consolidate. It’s the same learning mechanism, we’re just amplifying or boosting it.
“As we discover more about optimising, personalising, and adapting brain stimulation protocols, we’ll likely see these technologies become routine in training and classroom environments.
“It’s possible that brain stimulation could be implemented for classes like drivers’ training, SAT prep, and language learning.”