In the next five to ten years, we think drugs that enhance memory are going to raise important issues of freedom of thought. Will you have a right to say no to these drugs if you are the only eyewitness to a crime? Could a future government say: "It's very important that you remember what you saw. We want you to take this drug at least until after you have testified in court."
How would you like to be forced to maintain an accurate memory of, say, a murder you witnessed? That would be difficult but understandable. However, imagine you were forced to more accurately remember your own rape. At the very least use of a memory-boosting technology for that purpose would be an argument for speedier trials and should come with an optional ability to reduce the clarity of the memory once the trial was completed.
I have previously argued with Boire on the question of whether there is an unlimited right to erase one's memories. However, in a follow-up clarification post on his postion Boire acknowledged that the right to erase one's own memories should not be treated as unlimited regardless of circumstances.
Also, I should note that no right is "absolute." Not even something like freedom of speech or freedom of religion. I'm perfectly willing to accept reasonable "time, place, and manner" type restrictions on cognitive liberty.
As the mind becomes more malleable to both memory erasure and false memory implant technologies such technologies will pose a serious problem regardless of the positions governments take over cognitive rights. The advent of date rape drugs demonstrate that, once again, governments have no monopoly on the ability or willingness to violate the rights of individuals. My greater concern for the future in Western societies is that the drugs that will be developed that alter and erase memories and change personalities will be illegally used by individuals against others without their knowledge.
We need effective technological defenses usable by ourselves against drugs and other technologies that alter our minds. Imagine, for instance, implanted sensors that would be able to signal us when the sensors detect drugs or other agents in our bodies. The ability to detect that we are under some form of cognitive attack would, for instance, allow a woman who has just consumed a date rape drug to call for help before losing consciousness. A really advanced implant would even be able to release counter-agents to block some or all of the effects of the cognitive state altering agents.
Boire is also concerned about a technology called brain fingerprinting offered by a company called Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories. The inventor of brain fingerprinting claims brain fingerprinting can detect whether a person is lying with far greater accuracy than a polygraph test.
Brain Fingerprinting, developed by Dr Larry Farwell, chief scientist and founder of Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories, is a method of reading the brain's involuntary electrical activity in response to a subject being shown certain images relating to a crime. Unlike the polygraph or lie detector to which it is often compared, the accuracy of this technology lies in its ability to pick up the electrical signal, known as a p300 wave, before the suspect has time to affect the output.
Boire's concern is that people could be compelled to take a brain fingerprinting test and that this would remove a person's right to remain silent. Keep in mind that in much (most?) of the world suspects and defendants do not have such a right in the first place. A technology for detecting deception therefore may not so much cause a violation of an existing right as it would cause the coercion of testimony to produce a more accurate result. Though if interrogation becomes much easier to use to produce accurate confessions one can expect at least some governments to make greater use of it.
As least in the West I see greater threats to cognitive liberty coming from actions of non-state actors than from governments. William Gibson' narrator in Neuromancer said something along the lines of "The streets find uses for things". Reflecting my own view of reality my misremembrance of that quote which I will now claim as my own is "The streets find their own uses for technology". In free societies those street uses of cognitive state-altering technologies are what I think we have the most to worry about.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2004 April 24 02:44 PM Dangers Mind Engineering|