There are a few parts from 1999’s The Matrix that people might wish were real — being able to effectively dodge bullets is one of them. While this reflex may still be a thing of science fiction, the idea of a device being able to “upload” skills and knowledge directly into the brain may be closer to reality. In the film, Neo could instantly learn deadly martial arts skills within moments through such a device. While such aggressive and total learning may not be feasible just yet, scientists have shown that brain stimulation can improve a person’s ability to learn new skills.

Researchers at HRL Laboratories discovered that a type of low-current electrical brain stimulation may amplify learning, giving people an edge as they try to improve complex, real-world skills. Dr. Matthew Phillips and colleagues from HRL’s Information & System Sciences Laboratory monitored brain activity in six commercial and military pilots for their experiment, the results of which were published in the February edition of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

The researchers used transcranial direct stimulation (tDCS) to stimulate the brains of 32 novice pilots who were learning to fly in a flight simulator, and hoped that the skills learned in the simulator would transfer to real-life flights. Direct brain stimulation has previously been shown to help patients recover more quickly from stroke and boost creativity.

“We measured the average G-force of the place during the simulated landing and compared it to control subjects who received a mock brain stimulation,” Phillips said in a press release.

The findings showed novice pilots who received tDCS improved their piloting abilities 33 percent better than a placebo group, according to The Telegraph. “It sounds kind of sci-fi, but there’s a large scientific basis for the development of our system,” Phillips said. “When you learn something, your brain physically changes. Connections are made and strengthened in a process called neuroplasticity.”

Phillips explained that some functions of the brain are located in very small, specific regions. The system actually targeted changes to these specific regions as participants learned. Phillips predicted the potential to improve learning with brain stimulation could make this form of skill improvement commonplace in the future.

“As we discover more about optimizing, personalizing, and adapting brain stimulation protocols, we’ll likely see these technologies become routine in training and classroom environments,” he said. “It’s possible that brain stimulation could be implemented for classes like drivers’ training, SAT prep, and language learning.”

Source: Choe J, Coffman B, Bergstedt D, Ziegler M, Phillips M. Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Modulates Neuropnal Activity and Learning in Pilot Training. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2016.