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Opportunities in Neuroscience for Future Army Applications 1 Introduction The Army has made great strides in exploiting technological advances on the battlefield. This success is based in large part on advances in computers and miniaturization, which exploit reductions in scale and exponential increases in performance, and on advances in disciplines such as information science and network science. The field of neuroscience offers similar potential to achieve further improvements in soldier performance for future operations. Advances and major investments by the broader community in neuroscience promise new insights for military applications. These include traditional areas of importance to the Army, such as learning, decision making, and performance under stress, as well as newer areas, such as cognitive fitness, brain–computer interfaces (an extension from earlier human–computer ergonomics), and biological markers of neural states. Advances in such fields as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and bioengineering have resulted in instrumentation and techniques that can better assess the neural basis of cognition and enable visualization of brain processes. These have the potential to provide new measures of training and learning for soldiers, while also shedding new light on traditional approaches to behavioral science used by the Army. Continuing research is certain to give rise to new opportunities, and the Army would like to better understand how these neuroscience opportunities can be exploited for the benefit of the soldier. STUDY BACKGROUND Most current neuroscience research is at a basic level with little or no regard for longer-term military potential. In recent years, however, it has begun to capitalize on the investments in basic research and move toward applications. The time is right to apply neuroscience understanding to applications that have military relevance. What is needed is a determination of the specific outcomes of this basic research that are likely to lead to the development of neurotechnologies with possible military application and a discussion of the spectrum of efforts under way, with emphasis on the nonmedical applications. In March 2007, the National Research Council’s (NRC’s) Board on Army Science and Technology (BAST) convened a meeting that attempted to bring the complexities of neuroscience and its military applications into focus. Presentations to the BAST on ongoing work in academia, industry, and government included areas of science and technology at the intersection of diverse fields and speculated on possible synergies between ongoing research efforts. The Army believes that neuroscience will grow to impact numerous applications that are presently scattered among multiple disciplines and fields. It is interested in identifying a range of potential applications and bringing coherence to an emerging collection of relevant neuroscience advances that can serve as a basis for future investments in research. Statement of Task The Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology) (ASAALT) requested that BAST conduct a study of the potential of neuroscience to support military applications. Box 1-1 contains the statement of task for the study. The Army sponsor requested that the study address what neuroscience can be expected to do as well as what advances could be made if appropriate direction is provided and investments are made. Because the field of neuroscience is wide-ranging and other entities are investing large amounts in many neuroscience subdisciplines, the study should focus on opportunities that could have a high-payoff potential for the Army and on areas where it is unlikely that others will devote substantial resources that will benefit Army applications. The study should also suggest opportunities for leveraging specific investments by others, where appropriate, for Army applications. The sponsor specifically requested that the study consider opportunities achievable over the next 5, 10, and 20 years and avoid unrealizable “bionic soldier” applications.
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Opportunities in Neuroscience for Future Army Applications BOX 1-1 Statement of Task The Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology) (ASAALT) has requested the NRC BAST to conduct a study of neuroscience in terms of its potential to support military applications. The study will address what neuroscience can be expected to do as well as what neuroscience advances could do if provided appropriate direction and investment. Given the fact that the field of neuroscience is very extensive and there are many other investments underway in numerous areas and sub-areas, this study will focus on those areas that have high-payoff potential for the Army where it is unlikely that others will devote substantial resources to research and exploitation in these areas for Army benefit. The study will also suggest opportunities for leveraging specific investments where appropriate for the Army. Specifically, the study will Identify and recommend novel technologies, methodologies and approaches for assessing and guiding the training of Army personnel to enhance soldier learning. The study will consider: Assessing how neural pathways implicated in functional processing can be enhanced to improve the training of Soldiers in an operational context Examining how sleep deprivation and high stress conditions influence training efficiency and effectiveness through degradation of specific neural pathways involved in learning and memory Describing how neural pathway approaches can be applied by the Army to more objectively assess training paradigms, including virtual reality training as compared with constructed reality and operational conditions, regarding their efficacy in improving performance by Soldiers in combat environments Whether traditional behavioral science as applied to Soldier training, learning and performance can benefit from developments and new knowledge being acquired in areas of neuroscience that have significant potential to impact the Soldier. Examine leading-edge methodologies and technologies developed in the government, private and academic sectors to improve cognitive and behavioral performance, particularly under high stress conditions. Consider representative non-military task environments requiring continuous operation with high vigilance and risk. Identify additional high-risk, high-payoff opportunities in the neuroscience field with strong potential for Army application. Identify critical barriers (such as legal and ethical) to research and development that could be surmounted by appropriate science and technology investments assuming that these are Army critical and unique. Suggest ways to overcome the barriers, and recommend research initiatives. Identify areas and opportunities where the Army can leverage relevant investments of others for Army application. Determine trends in research and commercial development of neuroscience technologies that are likely to be of importance to the Army in the longer term. Study Approach The NRC appointed the Committee on Opportunities in Neuroscience for Future Army Applications to carry out the study. Special care was devoted to the composition of the committee. Some members had backgrounds in the traditional facets of neuroscience such as psychology and cognitive science and in neurology, including neuronal stimulation, neuropharmacology, imaging techniques, and human–computer interfaces (traditional ergonomics); others had expertise in newer and emerging subdisciplines and cross-disciplinary fields such as neuroimmunology, neuroeconomics, neuroergonomics, augmented reality, and computational neuroscience. Members were also selected on the basis of their experience in research and development (R&D), military operations, and medicine, and in training specialties such as memory and learning, assessment, decision making, prediction, and reading intentionality. Short biographies for the members are given in Appendix A. Initially the committee was divided into data-gathering teams based on the Army’s own perception of neuroscience requirements. The teams determined sources of outside expertise that would be helpful to the committee’s study and reviewed recent publications on neuroscience topics, including two recent NRC studies for DOD sponsors (NRC, 2008a, 2008b). The streams of data-gathering activity were brought together midway though the committee’s deliberations when the first full-message draft was being written. A consensus was reached on pertinent findings to be contained in the report, and the committee was reconstituted into writing teams to draft the findings. The committee’s conclusions and recommendations were refined and ratified at the final meeting. All of the meetings and data-gathering activities are documented in Appendix B.
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Opportunities in Neuroscience for Future Army Applications REPORT ORGANIZATION This report contains the committee’s analysis, conclusions, and recommendations. It focuses on areas of neuroscience research likely to lead to developments of interest to the Army and provides specific objectives for the Army to consider. Chapter Structure Chapter 1, the Introduction, provides the study background and report organization. Chapter 2, Neuroscience and the Army, provides a brief history and definition of neuroscience, discusses Army applications likely to be served by neuroscience advances, and covers issues related to such advances. Chapter 3, Training and Learning, discusses the assessment and testing of soldiers and units, and Chapter 4, Optimizing Decision Making, considers the multiple roles of leaders and tools for characterizing and predicting behaviors. Chapter 5, Sustaining Soldier Performance, discusses degradation of performance as a consequence of exposure to various environmental stressors (e.g., fatigue, metabolic stressors, pain, and sleeplessness), countermeasures to these stressors that aim to prevent such degradation or restore baseline performance, including pharmacological approaches, and countermeasures to the longer-term neural and cognitive effects of brain injury and traumatic stress. Chapter 6, Improving Cognitive and Behavioral Performance, describes emerging approaches to enhancing soldier performance that combine neuroscience insights with cognitive-behavioral ergonomics; one such approach would come from the new field of neuroergonomics. It also assesses the potential utility to the Army of pharmacological and behavioral interventions to enhance cognitive performance. Chapter 7, Neuroscience Technology Opportunities, assesses high-risk, high-payoff technology opportunities in terms of their potential importance to the Army, the likelihood of their development by others (leveraging opportunities), and the time frame for initial operational capability. Chapter 8, Long-Term Trends in Research, describes major trends in neuroscience research that are likely to yield future opportunities for the Army and should therefore be monitored by a suitable and continuing mechanism. Finally, Chapter 9, Conclusions and Recommendations, presents the committee’s specific conclusions and recommendations in response to the statement of task, plus overarching conclusions and recommendations that follow logically from the specific recommendations. Response to Statement of Task The chapter structure of the report does not correlate in a simple way with the four subtasks in the committee’s statement of task (see Box 1-1). This section describes which parts of the report address each subtask. Subtask 1 requests that the committee identify technologies, methodologies, and approaches applicable to training Army personnel, including (1) assessing training paradigms and improvements to training; (2) examining the influence of high stress and sleep deprivation; and (3) determining how traditional behavioral science approaches benefit from new knowledge in neuroscience. Chapter 3 responds to the first item by discussing training paradigms and methods, performance assessments of individuals and groups, identification of training candidates, and metrics for training effectiveness. The chapter also addresses the third item by describing the impact of neuroscience advances on traditional behavioral approaches to the assessment of both training and performance. The second item—the influence on soldier performance of high stressors, such as fatigue, pain, and sleep deprivation—is discussed in Chapter 5. Subtask 2, which requests an examination of methodologies and technologies to improve cognitive and behavioral performance, is addressed in Chapters 4, 6, and 7. Specifically, Chapter 4 discusses methodologies for studying decision making and tools to predict how an individual will approach making a decision. It suggests ways to capitalize on individual variability and deal with the constraints of a decision maker’s belief system on the decisions he or she makes. As discussed in Chapter 6, improvements in cognitive and behavioral performance are also likely to arise from the emerging field of neuroergonomics, as well as from research by the auto industry and NASA, which are doing research that is also of interest to the Army. The committee recognizes the potential for neuropharmacological approaches to improving performance, but in Chapter 6 urges caution because there may be unknown side effects and long-term consequences of using pharmacological agents for this purpose. Technologies that might be used to improve mission-related performance are assessed in Chapter 7. The opportunities include field-deployable indicators of neural state and advances in human–machine interfaces and brain–computer interfaces such as augmented reality, three-dimensional haptic interfaces, and information management to cope with cognitive overload. Subtask 3 asks the committee to identify high-risk, high-payoff opportunities in neuroscience, critical barriers to R&D, and areas where the Army can leverage the investments of others. High-payoff research opportunities are identified in the recommendations from Chapters 3 through 6; these opportunities vary in the level of risk associated with them, as discussed in the respective chapters. Chapter 7 describes technology development opportunities, and Tables 7-1 and 7-2 summarize the committee’s evaluations of high-priority and priority opportunities for Army investment, taking into account risk-benefit trade-offs and the just-mentioned potential to leverage investments by others. Legal and ethical barriers to implementing neuroscience research results (and technology) are discussed in Chapter 2, while technical bar-
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Opportunities in Neuroscience for Future Army Applications riers to implementing technology opportunities are discussed in Chapter 7. Subtask 4 asks the committee to identify trends in research and in the commercial development of neuroscience technologies that are likely to be important to the Army in the longer term. Chapter 7 includes a section on long-term trends in technology. Chapter 8 discusses long-term neuroscience research trends that the Army should monitor for results important to Army missions. In Chapter 8, the committee suggests a mechanism for effective monitoring of the many disciplines and areas of research and technology development in neuroscience that are likely to produce results of value to the Army over the longer term. REFERENCES NRC (National Research Council). 2008a. Emerging Cognitive Neuroscience and Related Technologies. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. NRC. 2008b. Human Behavior in Military Contexts. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press.