Side Note

The super-soldiers of the future might be mentally defective

Because America’s global dominance is predicated on having the most terrifying military force in the world, our nation’s armed forces are always trying to figure out new ways to be tougher, scarier, and more deadly than they already are. Since we already have nukes, drones, creepy space satellites, pain rays, and load-bearing dog-robots, the next wave of military technology is focused on turning our troops into super troops by equipping them with exoskeletons that effectively turn them into Iron Man.

These wearable body enhancements are meant to make soldiers faster and stronger, potentially sending us down the path of Robocop. But, as a recent MIT study has found, these exoskeletons can have the side-effect of hindering their wearer’s decision-making skills. It turns out the current generation of exoskeletons don’t simply enhance natural human movement — instead, they create a newer, slightly different set of movements that require a degree of focus to execute, which diverts their wearer’s attention from the task at hand. When the MIT researchers equipped ROTC members with exoskeletons and had them go through an obstacle course while completing various cognitive challenges, they found that over half the participants failed at even basic tasks such as responding to a blinking light or keeping a steady pace.

Maybe humans move at the speed they do because our brains can only go so fast. Or maybe temporarily turning yourself into a robot is awkward and weird. Either way, the MIT team seems dedicated to fixing these problems and integrating these complex systems with our bodies in more naturalistic ways. If only the military-industrial complex would instead take this as a sign that maybe we don’t need IRL Tony Starks.