The committee also found that genetic analysis of individuals with unique sleep patterns has important potential for military operations. This category includes short sleepers, those susceptible to sleep deprivation or restriction, and people who experience unique circadian rhythm effects. Large-scale screenings are underway to identify genes that regulate sleep, and sleep circuitries and functions are being investigated at a molecular level. If a military force could remain fully functional with less sleep than its enemy, the implications for military effectiveness could be significant.
The results obtained by the committee indicate that the European Union is the leader in the field of fatigue research, with the United States, Australia, and Japan providing extensive contributions as well. Shift work in railroad operations, similar to military operations whose 24-hour demands encourage irregular schedules based on the clock, has been studied extensively in Europe and Japan. Only recently has the United States begun to fund similar research to better understand the physical, cognitive, and other effects of irregularly scheduled work. Additional countries conducting notable research include Brazil, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and South Korea.
HUMAN PERFORMANCE MODIFICATION AS A FUNCTION OF THE BRAIN-COMPUTER INTERFACE
Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) involve direct communication of neural signals with an external device. A large body of research is concerned with the ability to detect and translate neural activity and to direct it to control a machine and thereby enhance human performance (Brunner et al., 2011). The most common application is in the realm of rehabilitative medicine. For example, neural implants that enable a disabled person to control a wheelchair, prosthesis, or voice simulator have been developed (Rebsamen et al., 2010; Bell et al., 2008; Brumberg and Guenther, 2010). Conversely, electronic signals may be used to stimulate portions of the brain to induce a particular motor response, although this effect has been demonstrated only in animals (Arfin et al., 2009; Nuyujukian et al., 2011). Although potential applications for performance enhancement may develop in the future, current BCIs are slower and less accurate than the normal human function they are meant to replace.
Critical to the successful use/operation of brain-computer interfaces is the identification of brain regions activated during particular processes. Recently, electroencephalogram (EEG) spectra obtained using neural probes implanted into a subject’s brain have been successfully reconstructed as sounds heard by the subject. Future research will seek to extend this capability to analyze EEG spectra of thoughts and convert them to speech. This is an exciting advance that could lead to individuals regaining their lost ability to speak.
Role of Nanotechnology
The implementation of BCIs and many other HPM technologies is enabled by nanotechnology, which can be instantiated in a wide variety of technologies and fields relevant to HPM, including electronics, microelectromechanical systems, energy harvesting and storage devices/systems, and biomedicine. Especially intriguing for HPM is the use of nanotechnology for biointerfaces—materials, smaller than cells, that could possibly interact directly with the body on a biological level. For example, subdermal nanoparticles inserted into the body could enhance sensory perception (Cash and Clark, 2010).