All posts in “Research”

Australian military developing VR programs to train soldiers to be more resilient to pressure

Black Mirror is way ahead of us again. 

Virtual reality training is being developed as a method to equip troops with resilience training before deployment — something a Black Mirror episode toyed with in season three.

Australia’s Minister for Defence Industry, Christopher Pyne, has announced $2.2 million for a University of Newcastle project that aims to develop enhanced resilience training for military personnel using VR and biometrics.

The program, which will work in conjunction with the ADF’s existing Battle SMART stress resilience training program, will see neuroscientists designing simulated environments to replicate real-world combat scenarios in VR.

Military personnel will use the program to train in problem-solving unpredictable situations, and build up psychological resilience to pressure. Theoretically, their superiors can use the cognitive data collected on soldiers to “objectively” measure whether a person is ready to be deployed.

Funded by the Australian government, the Defence Science Technology Group (DSTG) and the Australian Army, the project is the work of associate professors Rohan Walker and Eugene Nalivaiko, affiliates of the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), alongside Dr. Albert “Skip” Rizzo’s team at the University of Southern California.

Associate professors Rohan Walker and Eugene Nalivaiko.

Associate professors Rohan Walker and Eugene Nalivaiko.

Image: University of Newcastle

“We said, is there potentially something where we can bring VR together with an objective assessment of stress and put them together to come up with an improved, immersive, engaging way of training to get better control of your stress levels when you are in demanding workplace situations?” Walker tells Mashable.

“Imagine a helicopter is coming in with casualties on it … It’s a very life threatening situation,” Walker explains. “So, not only would emergency responders or paramedics have to deal with the fact that they may be in a conflict zone, they have to deal with a helicopter landing, but they also have to rapidly triage what might be very significant injuries. 

“Now, that would become a very stressful process. In those situations, even without obvious things you think about with combat like bullets and guns, just that immediate pressure of there being a huge number of things that you have to do, and really, the consequences … of making good decisions in those circumstances.”

“The idea will be that trainees can master the skill in a measurable situation where we can control the difficulty of the task to ensure they’re prepared before moving to a real-world conflict situations,” Nalivaiko said in a press statement.

It makes us think immediately of Black Mirror episode “Men Against Fire,” in which soldiers are equipped with a neural implant called MASS that provides instant data via augmented reality, both in training and in the field — and blocks any emotional reaction to killing enemies.

Black Mirror's "Men Against Fire" episode featured use of AR in military operations.

Black Mirror’s “Men Against Fire” episode featured use of AR in military operations.

Image: Netflix

This project isn’t exactly Black Mirror‘s proposal, but it is a project aimed at using simulation to manage psychological stress as an occupational hazard in the military — a hazard that can affect performance in the field.

“What tends to be challenging is where difficult experiences are beyond the individual’s ability to control them,” said Nalivaiko in a press statement.

“It’s imperative our troops are forearmed with strategies to ensure they remain in control of the situation and are equipped with the skills to make a level-headed decision.”

How soldiers cope with high pressure situations

There are two main factors at play, when considering performance under pressure, according to Walker.

“Firstly, cognitive reframing, which involves identifying and then disputing irrational thoughts. Reframing is taking a step back and objectively looking at the scenario to find positive alternatives.

“The second is tactical breathing. Although it may sound simple, breathing is key as it is the only thing we can regulate under pressure.

“When you’re breathing properly, respiration and heart rate are controlled and you have high levels of cognitive flexibility to make better decisions.”

Once the trainees have completed the VR exercises, biometrics can theoretically be used to analyse how ready they are to be deployed for combat.

The VR program already has a prototype, with the launch of the program planned for six months away. But it’s not just the military that could benefit from VR pressure training.

“One of the things that we can do better is the way that we train people to deal with pressure across all workplaces,” Walker told Mashable. “High levels of stress are inherent in nearly every profession.”

Maybe Michelin-starred restaurants can consider VR training program for their high-intensity kitchens.

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Look into these AI-generated people’s eyes and let the nightmares wash over you

When technology is used to make art, sometimes it produces beautiful results. And other times things get a little … strange.

A new video going around Twitter shows an eerie girl moving her eyes as a cursor moves around on the screen. The thing is … it’s not a real person in the video. 

These beautiful and unsettling videos (okay, they’re more than a little creepy) were made by artist and researcher Branislav Ulicny, who created this AI-generated art by using neural networks combined with two other existing existing technology-based art projects.

“Virtual humans are kinda my obsession, so whenever I stumble upon some interesting data, I try to see what I can make out of it,” Ulicny said in an email. He was inspired by projects like Pickle Cat to work on a similar interactive experience. 

Image: michael tyka

To create this new, unsettling videos, Ulicny used the work of Michael Tyka, an artist who works with neural networks and created a series of AI-generated portraits, as the base portrait.

“It uses a technique called “generative adversarial networks” (“GAN“) where two artificial neural networks are playing an adversarial game: one (the “Generator”) tries to generate increasingly convincing output, while a the second (the “Critic”) tries to learn to distinguish real photos from generated ones. With time, the generated output becomes increasingly realistic, as both adversaries try to outwit each other,” Tyka explained via email. 

In other words: two algorithms work together to improve each other and create the most realistic images possible.

“Using machine learning as an artistic tool is a fascinating and nascent field with many opportunities for experimentation,” says Tyka.

Ulicny then combined the portraits with Yaroslav Ganin’s DeepWarp, a project that uses images and produces “gaze manipulation” or eye movement. Here is an example of DeepWarp in action on a photo of Chris Pine: 

Image: deepwarp

Put together, the two result in an unsettling mix of art and terror:

Image: Branislav Ulicny

The gaze follows the movement of your mouse on desktop or touch on mobile and is creepily accurate. You can try it out for yourself here.

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Tech studio turns your deepest memories into mind-blowing abstract art

Imagine if you could turn your memories and emotions into compelling abstract paintings. 

A London-based creative technology studio, Random Quark, has found a way to visually and directly represent emotions by scanning people’s brains to create awe-inspiring paintings.