October 31, 2002
Will Functional MRI Read Thoughts Some Day?
U Penn scientist Daniel Langleben is developing the fMRI as a lie detector and expects within 50 years it will be possible to read minds. His collaborator Ruben Gur can already detect whether a person recognizes another person.
Ruben Gur, a neuropsychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, says new kinds of brain scans can reveal when a person recognizes a familiar face, no matter how hard he or she tries to conceal it.
The scanning machine, called a functional MRI, takes pictures that highlight specific parts of the brain activated during certain tasks. Telltale parts of your brain "light up," he said, when you are presented with a face you have seen before.
This is a subject that I mentioned on my blog quite recently. This research into NMR and PET scans of brain activity may result in real, working, lie detectors eventually becoming available.
Would this be a good thing? I don't think so. How much of our freedom and civil liberties is due to the fact that it is just too damn hard to catch people.
What if you had to swear into a real lie detector that you never broke the speed limit when you renew your driver's licence application? Or never smoked dope? Or never made any comments that would discriminate against another social group? It would actually become possible to have a big brother watching all the time: because you would be watching yourself.
Coming back from that level of silliness, even if our societies don't abuse the technology, there are others who would. What if the Mafia had such a machine, it would be much harder to infiltrate informants. It could prove a powerful weapon in the hands of corrupt dictators wanting to hold power.
It's a good thing the old ones never worked.