in mice have found that memory depends on a wide variety of receptors, enzymes, and proteins.40

2.3.2 Possible Military Applications

Possible applications of neuroscience can be divided roughly into two classes—those that help humans to recover normal functionality and those that help humans change normal functionality.

In the first category (recovery of normal functionality), humans sometimes lose neurological functionality through accident or birth defects. For example, boxers and football players are known to suffer neurological damage in playing their sports, as do people who are victims of car accidents. In a military context, traumatic brain injuries (incurred, e.g., as a result of soldiers being exposed to explosions) have been described as the “signature injury” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,41 and advances in neuroscience may be able to help wounded soldiers recover from such injuries.

In the second category (changing normal functionality), neuroscience could be used to enhance or to diminish normal functionality. For example, through neuroscience-based applications, individuals might be able to operate equipment through a direct brain-machine interface rather than manipulating a joystick or typing commands on a keyboard. Workers in high-stress occupations, such as air traffic control, might be able to process larger amounts of information more quickly. Individuals with needs for the selective enhancement or inhibition of learning and memory might meet those needs with the administration of designer drugs based on neuroscience research. Antisocial tendencies of certain criminals, such as sexual offenders, could be diminished. Psychological traumas might be reduced for victims of abuse, torture, or other horrific events.

Enhancements of the types described in the previous paragraph have obvious military applications for soldiers operating weapons or commanders coordinating battles. Much more controversial from an ELSI standpoint are other proposals suggesting that false human memories can be created and different emotional states induced (e.g., reduced or increased fear, feelings of anger or calm) and that degrading the performance of adversaries in military contexts may be possible—applications that are generally not associated with civilian use.


40 For example, Ramirez et al. have demonstrated the insertion of false memories into mice. See Steve Ramirez et al., “Creating a False Memory in the Hippocampus,” Science 341(6144):387-391, 2013, available at

41 See

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement