Monday, September 15, 2008


High Tech Justice

George Bush's wet dream may be in the offing. And if that's not enough of a reason to be suspicious, here's the rest of the story:

The new technology is, to its critics, Orwellian. Others view it as a silver bullet against terrorism that could render waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods obsolete. Some scientists predict the end of lying as we know it.

... India has become the first country to convict someone of a crime relying on evidence from this controversial machine: a brain scanner that produces images of the human mind in action and is said to reveal signs that a suspect remembers details of the crime in question. ...

The Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature test, or BEOS, was developed by Champadi Raman Mukundan, an Indian neuroscientist who formerly ran the clinical psychology department of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences in Bangalore.

BEOS is, essentially, an EEG taken while an investigator reads aloud details of the crime to the suspect -- as prosecutors believe them to be -- and the resulting brain images are processed using Mukundan's software.

The software tries to detect whether, when the crime's details are recited, the brain lights up in specific regions — the areas that, according to the technology's inventors, show measurable changes when experiences are relived, their smells and sounds summoned back to consciousness. The inventors of the technology claim the system can distinguish between peoples' memories of events they witnessed and between deeds they committed.

Naturally, this has been rigorously tested and peer reviewed, thoroughly testing both the premise and the technology, before being used in court to decide anyone's fate, right? Silly person! I said it was George ("waterboard 'em first, ask questions about the accuracy of the information" later) Bush's wet dream, didn't I?

[E]xperts in psychology and neuroscience were almost uniformly troubled that it was used to win a criminal conviction before being validated by any independent study and reported in a respected scientific journal.

Publication of data from testing of the scans would allow other scientists to judge its merits — and the validity of the studies — during peer reviews.

"Technologies which are neither seriously peer-reviewed nor independently replicated are not, in my opinion, credible," said [J. Peter] Rosenfeld a psychologist and neuroscientist at Northwestern University and one of the early developers of electroencephalogram-based lie detection. "The fact that an advanced and sophisticated democratic society such as India would actually convict persons based on an unproven technology is even more incredible."

Hey! The US is (allegedly) an advanced and sophisticated democratic society and we're prepared to convict people in kangaroo courts based on old-fashioned torture despite the fact that even an idiot like Cully Stimson realizes that it produces bad intelligence.

As we enter more fully into the era of mapping and understanding the brain, society will face an increasing number of important ethical, legal and social issues raised by these new technologies," [Henry] Greely, the Stanford bioethicist, and his colleague Judy Illes wrote last year in the American Journal of Law & Medicine.

If brain scans are widely adopted, they added, "the legal issues alone are enormous, implicating at least the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. At the same time, the potential benefits to society of such a technology, if used well, could be at least equally large."

Yeah. We could do away with those expensive and inconvenient court thingies altogether.

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