Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Navy Wants Mobile Brain Training

Karl Pribram and colleagues have presented evi...Image via WikipediaHigh on the Navy’s just-released wish list for designs from small businesses is a “brain-fitness training program” that sailors can use to sharpen their cognitive skills. It’s got to work on an “ultramobile platform” like an iPhone or a netbook. According to a solicitation released yesterday, the Navy wants it to produce measurable improvements in “working memory, attention, language processing and decision making,” not just in “new recruits” but aging captains, admirals and senior enlisteds.
Think of it like a souped-up adult education app. With something of a twist.

Any business that wants the Navy’s cash must demonstrate that its learning program will actually change sailors’ brains. Among other criteria, pilot programs have to actually “quantify brain-tissue growth.” Not to be overly literal, but some recent neuroscientific studies posit that adult brain cells expand and contract in response to stimuli, a process known as neuroplasticity.

What “growth” in this context actually means is a faster brain, where synapses fire electrical impulses more rapidly in response to stimuli. That’s what the Navy wants to witness.

But it’s far from clear how it would work. Presumably, the Navy wouldn’t perform biopsies on its sailors to study expanded brain functions. The solicitation just says generically that the “cognitive gym” should “remotely monitor” sailors’ progress.

This already exists with Lumosity apps (www.lumosity.com) and also, if Posit Science would also develop more iphone apps (they have one for face recognition at http://www.braintraining101.com/posit-science-releases-free-brain-fitness-app/ ). 
 My problem with the SBIR is that it should stimulate next generation technologies not just push what's out there a little further along.  That's what regular government procurement programs can do for the military.  This is a simple mod to already existing technology.  Nothing new here.


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