Ready, fire, aim: putting the subconscious in charge
Over the past decade, the skies have become increasingly patrolled by a growing armada of remote-controlled flying robots or drones. Now plans are afoot by international military to use mind-control techniques to operate and fire these airborne weapon systems.
Since the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, some aspects of modern warfare have become increasingly automated. This is especially so in aerial-combat operations.
In September 2001, the US military possessed about 60 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Today, the US Air Force has more than 6,000. These remote-controlled aerial robots now outnumber the fleet of traditional, pilot-operated combat aircraft flown by the US Air Force.
UAVs are flown by “laptop warrior” or drone pilots, who operate the aircraft using wireless technology from darkened, air-conditioned cubicles on bases in places such as Las Vegas and Pearl Harbour. Each of these “ground control stations” houses up to 280 personnel who have been trained to pilot a new generation of drone aircraft.
Some drones, such as the General Atomics Warrior, Reaper, Predator and Avenger, are airborne assassins that operate in airspace as far afield as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Africa. Other drones fly reconnaissance missions at extremely high altitude with designs now capable of operating in inner-space or the Earth’s exo-atmospheric zone.
While these drones harvest three-dimensional, high-resolution, high-definition images of the earth’s surface, the information is collated by ground controllers in the US, who direct drones to human targets in international jurisdictions. This target acquisition process has resulted in thousands of extra-judicial killings since 2004.
The New America Foundation estimates that up to 3,000 people have been killed in this manner. As the technology improves, the percentage of non-combatant deaths is believed to have dropped to less than 1 per cent of current totals.
The USAF is training more drone pilots than ever before – to the extent that they outnumber traditional pilots completing old-fashioned flight training. They acquire targets by comparing and attempting to match computer images of “high-value” locations and persons “of interest” with real-time images relayed back to them via cameras on their operating drone. When the imagery intelligence matches the target, the drone pilot “locks on” and attacks by remote control.
This can be a time-consuming process and mistakes are made. However, recent research by way of neuro-imaging has shown that certain parts of the brain “light up” when drone pilots correctly identify targets. It has also been shown that such identification often happens at a subconscious level before the operator has the chance to process the information and actively or consciously react.
The neuro-imaging research shows that despite the fatigue associated with scanning images over a long period of time in a darkened cubicle, the brain will automatically correlate matching target profiles at a speed that is too quick for the conscious mind to process. In other words, the final decision to fire on a target might be triggered by the subconscious mind.
By harnessing this sub-conscious matching process that the human brain is capable of, military researchers hope to gain crucial milliseconds in fast-moving combat scenarios.