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PLA: Cognitive Warfare Has Entered the Era of Combat for Brain Control

{Editor’s Notes: On June 2, 2020. Qiushi Magazine, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) leading theoretical journal on communism and governance, republished an article from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Daily on controlling the human brain (mind) in modern warfare. It showed that back in 2020 the PLA had already started research on human brain control. The following is the translation. {1}}

The combat space of modern warfare has three major domains: the physical domain, the information domain, and the cognitive domain. The cognitive domain has become the ultimate domain in which great powers compete and engage in military confrontations. Cognitive domain warfare acts directly on the human brain’s cognition through special means, to influence human’s emotions, motivation, judgment, and behavior, or even to control the human mind. Since the brain is the carrier of cognitive capability, controlling the brain might become the main battlefield in future wars. The battle for brain control will soon become the key to cognitive domain warfare and the highest battle for control during warfare.

The Ancient and New Cognitive Domain Warfare

Unlike the warfare in the physical domain and the information domain, warfare in the Cognitive domain greatly reflects the idea of “subduing the enemy without fighting.” The battle in the cognitive domain dates back thousands of years, where we called it a “mind-attacking tactic.” In primitive societies, tribal leaders usually used the sound of drumming and the tune of stepping to boost morale of their soldiers and mentally deter their enemies. This is the earliest form of cognitive domain combat. In the Cold Weapon era and earlier years of the Hot Weapon era, people realized that acknowledging the justice of war and the public’s support of the war impacts the war’s result. Thus people widely used war diatribes and notices to expose the enemy’s guilt to stimulate their soldiers’ fighting spirits.

After the Second Industrial Revolution, broadcasting became an important means of information dissemination. More channels of cognitive domain combat were developed. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Luxembourg’s “Voice of the Battlefield” had a big mind-attacking effect.

After the Third Industrial Revolution, cognitive domain warfare was no longer limited to media propaganda carried on voice or text, but also involved video, images, virtual reality, cognitive control, and other diverse means. Modern cognitive domain combat gradually became highly intense and widespread, and was used on a much larger scale, level, and efficacy.

Since the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, especially the maturity of computer speech synthesis and image processing technologies, has offered the capability of creatlng video with fake human faces and voice. The military can use it to fool the enemy.

In summary, throughout the continuous evolution of technology – from single text and voice, to radio, video, and Internet – more and more media can be used to influence the enemy’s thinking, judgement, and cognition, thus creating new modes of cognitive domain combat.

The Era of competition on Brain Control in the Cognitive Domain Has Arrived

The weapon of cognitive domain warfare is information. Any place where information can be disseminated can become a battlefield. The medium is the key to information dissemination. Medium is ubiquitous in the current Internet-based society. With the development of network technology, the collection, storage, and processing of information are highly dependent on information networks. Information has a dominant role over the integrated joint warfare command. All aspects of combat, from (enemy’s) intention interpretation, analysis and research, decision-making, commanding, firepower strikes, to operation assessment, cannot function without an information network. The Ubiquitous medium provides the prerequisites and effective support to conduct cognitive domain operations.

Friedrich Engels once noted, “As soon as technological advances are available for military purposes and have been used for military purposes, they immediately and almost forcibly, and oftentimes against the will of the commander, cause the changes and even transformations in the way of conducting warfare.” In recent years, the fusion of brain science and AI technology has become one of the most prominent advances in science in the 21st century. With the support of AI technology, the infinite potential of the human brain can be utilized. The development of brain science and technology can lead to the creation of new cognitive combat modes directly targeting the human brain, such as brain reading, brain imitation, brain control, and brain strengthening.

Brain Reading is used to retrieve from human’s brain information such as pictures, texts, voices, and videos. The Military can apply it to gather the enemy’s information. Modern cognitive neuroscience and functional magnetic resonance techniques have made it possible to interpret information about neuronal activity in the brain in real time without side effects. Reading this information and performing quantitative analysis of brain activity can ultimately lead to parsing and reading the human brain activity (mind). Currently, visual parsing techniques based on functional magnetic resonance imaging can recover images seen by the brain. A 2019 study showed that artificial speech synthesis techniques based on brainwave signals can extract signals from the brain and synthesize speech that humans can directly understand.

Brain Imitation: Imitating the way human brain neurons process information to make machines more intelligent. Machines can process massive information and complete independent learning by imitating the brain. At present, the main areas of research are brain-imitation neural chips, processors with active learning ability, and intelligent robots. In the future, the military’s anti-terrorism robots, emergency rescue robots, reconnaissance robots, drones, etc., can use a single brain-imitation chip to achieve real-time target monitoring, tracking, voice control, obstacle avoidance, and other combat functions.

Brain Control: involves Using external stimuli, such as electricity and magnetism, to interfere with, disrupt, or even control the neural activity of the brain, and thereby alter human cognitive functions. In principle, it is to influence the nerve system of enemy soldiers through technical means, so that they, under the guidance of external signals, take actions detrimental to their own interests, such as changing orders or putting down weapons. Currently, several institutions around the world are trying to implant electrode chips in the brains of certain animals to control their behavior, turning them into undetectable spies for reconnaissance, tracking, surveillance, and attack.

Brain Strengthening is to enhance human cognitive functions by means of neurofeedback technology, electromagnetic stimulation technology, etc., to improve the effectiveness of military training of personnel and enhance their combat capability. Real-time neurofeedback techniques can train and reshape the brain to improve its cognitive functions, thereby enhancing cognitive combat capabilities. An Israeli clinical trial demonstrated that training soldiers with neurofeedback technology can effectively alleviate their “narrative disorder” and increase their tolerance of stress.

The use of brain science and technology for cognitive domain combat can help achieve war objectives more directly. Therefore, brain science and technology have an increasingly prominent value in the military field. The rapid development and integration of brain science and other related sciences have brought significant opportunities to modify combat theory and develop weapons in the cognitive domain. Competition on brain control has become a new competition field among military powers, and cognitive domain warfare has entered the era of competition for brain control.

Many Hurdles to Overcome

The rapid development of brain science and technology will continuously introduce new combat theories, equipment, and styles, and even lead to a new round of military transformation. But there are still many hurdles to cross for it to go from the experimental environment to the real battlefield.

We urgently need to strengthen the research in cognitive domain warfare theory. We should develop (new) military theory first, which can then guide the military applications of brain science and technology. The development of cognitive domain combat theory and technology has made some progress but is still in the exploration stage. We should strengthen the research on cognitive combat ideas, methods, styles, and means, and then guide the development of technologies in brain science, psychological impact, information dissemination, and other areas. This is the basis for future combat for brain control.

We urgently need to strengthen the research and development of cutting-edge technologies. We can predict an upcoming rapid boom in brain science and technology due to the increased investment in many countries. We should plan ahead and focus on key technologies: “brain reading” technology should focus on brain network, neural loop analysis, visual perception, advanced cognitive analysis, etc.; “brain imitation” technology should focus on the breakthrough of new neuron-imitation semiconductor device and the research and development of high-performance military “brain-imitating” electronic information systems; “brain control” technology should focus on the development of information systems that can monitor and intervene in the brain’s thinking activities, to create a new type of “mind control” equipment; and the key of “brain strengthening” technology is to develop portable integrated brain information gathering equipment and non-invasive neurofeedback technology.

We urgently need to regulate the ethical rules of brain science. The rapid development of brain science poses risks to human ethics and morality. If research with humans as the subject only focuses on the scientific side, sometimes it may cause harm to human beings. Therefore, we should strengthen the study on the ethics of brain science and regulate the experiments. To those countries and institutions going against humanitarianism and secretly developing brain control technology, we can use ethics to counter them.

(The author is from the PLA Information Engineering University.)

{1} Qiushi Magazine, “Cognitive Warfare Has Entered the Era of Combat for Brain Control,” June 2, 2020.