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Privacy Science

Brain Privacy 495

sleepyrobot writes "As neuroscience advances and brain scans become more sophisticated, the Boston Globe points out that some privacy advocates are concerned about brain privacy. Could employees be scanned for violent or depressive impulses? Could soldiers be screened for homosexuality? It sounds like a Philip K. Dick vision of the future, but some predict this will be a bigger ethical issue than genetics."
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Brain Privacy

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  • by Blaine Hilton ( 626259 ) * on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:31PM (#5854656) Homepage
    Now this is a rather disturbing article. I've always thought it was something that people can check out brain function and all of that, however I never thought off it as being a privacy concern. This article though brings up some interesting points. Such as having brain scans be a condition to being hired, much like a drug test of today. This at first seems shocking, but it is commonly accepted to take a drug test without any objections. With the heightened security concerns around the globe I believe people, as a whole are willing to work towards a "more secure" future.

    The problem I see though is people are not thinking broad enough. Technologies such as this can be used on a large scale against humanity. I believe the consequences of such abilities need to be addressed in a uniform manner, without always talking about the terrorists that will kill us all anyway. How far will society let the security over take our lives? I for one do not want to end up living in a military state where every body that does not have blonde hair, blue eyes, and a perfect attitude is destroyed. Do you?

    Go calculate [] something

    • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:42PM (#5854820) Homepage Journal
      There's a major difference between a drug screen and having your brain scanned as a condition of employment. A drug screen is meant to pick up illegal activity which poses a tangible safety and liability issue to a potential employer. There's nothing illegal about thinking anything (at least in the developed democracies), so I don't see brain scans becoming accepted practice during my lifetime (knock on wood).
      • by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <> on Thursday May 01, 2003 @03:01PM (#5855066) Homepage
        A drug screen is meant to pick up illegal activity which poses a tangible safety and liability issue to a potential employer.


        Chemical screens for drug metabolites say absolutely nothing about whether you are a safety issue. If that was the issue, impairment tests would be used. (And a few intelligent employers do use impairment tests.) Drug screens are about what you're doing in your own time - they are a lifestyle screen. They're a loyalty oath to the Drug War.

        (They're also surprisingly inaccurate [] for something that can ruin your life.)

        I got my first job in high school, 17 years ago. I've been in the workforce ever since. I've never pissed in a cup for an employer []. I've turned down job offers over it. I've still done ok.

        Drug tests: just say no.

        • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @04:14PM (#5855941) Homepage Journal
          Since I've worked in warehouse/distribution environments for the last several years, I heartily disagree. Put plain & simple, you don't want some crackhead/stoner/junkie driving a forklift around your warehouse. From the employer's perspective, it's common sense to try and screen users out ahead of time.

          Now, whether this argument extends to non-equipment operating personnel is potentially another matter. The main motivation there is probably insurance related. Now don't get me wrong - personally, I think pot should be legalized. But drug users do represent a higher risk in terms of attendance and health care issues, so from the employers perspective that makes them expendable...

    • by RatBastard ( 949 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:46PM (#5854890) Homepage
      You want to test my blood/urine/etc... for drugs? Get a search warrant or get the hell out. My body is more private than my house. People put up with random/compulsery drug tests because they have been brainwashed by the whole "War on Drugs" debacle that it is a Good Thing to test people with no Probable Cause whatsoever.

      Brain scanning like this, combined with genetic testing will create a tiered populous with those deemd "fit" (and deemed by who, exactly?) at the top, and the great unwashed masses at the bottom.

      It seems almost inevitable that humanity keeps trying to organize itself into the lords and the serfs.
      • It's a good attitude to say "Fuckoff" to all those who want to scan your brain/test your blood/test your urine/etc. In fact that's pretty much how I feel. Unfortunately, there are more sheep than not in society and as long as the majority of people do not refuse the tests, those who do refuse will be branded dangerous and denied jobs/insurance/rights. If everyone stood up for basic human rights and dignity, I wouldn't be so afraid of the future. Unfortunately, the trend looks to be exactly the opposite.
        • As far as I know there's not a whole lot of precedent for companies performing drug testing on contracted companies/vendors, so at least, in the forseeable future, you ought to be able to start your own business if you can't get a job due to refusing a drug test.

          It'll be when the govt requires that they only do business with companies that perform mandatory/regular drug testing that it'll become a really severe problem. For now, there are plenty of jobs out there that don't require drug testing.
      • yes, the lords are always trying to retain their status over the serfs...

        someone once had a name for this type of a struggle... i think it was a class struggle...

        and for the next question - when was the last time that machester united won the cup?
      • People put up with random/compulsery drug tests because they have been brainwashed by the whole "War on Drugs" debacle that it is a Good Thing to test people with no Probable Cause whatsoever.

        Um... No, I put up with the bullshit drug test because it was a requirement for employment.

      • People put up with random/compulsery drug tests because they have been brainwashed by the whole "War on Drugs" debacle that it is a Good Thing to test people with no Probable Cause whatsoever.

        Or because some people choose humiliation to unemployment. Not that unemployment does have its own humiliations, and sometimes the drug test is the lesser of the two.

        I mean, even some fast food joints (Jack-in-the-Box for one) require pre-employment drug tests for their hamburger flippers. This whole pre-employm

    • by itchyfidget ( 581616 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:47PM (#5854909) Journal

      ... not that that will stop people from trying to use it as a high-tech lie-detector :-/

      From the original article:

      If a truly accurate lie detector could be developed, Caplan warns, current privacy guarantees might not provide enough protection against scanning requests from courts, the government, the military, or employers.

      The key word here is if. Functional brain imaging like f(unctional)MRI is still in its infancy, and it takes quite a lot of repetitions of looking at your stimulus (e.g. something you might or might not have lied about) before you can build up a statistically reliable picture about the parts of the brain involved in processing that stimulus. If someone is stressed out because they are being investigated, and they *know* what the investigators are looking for evidence of, then there is nothing to say that they won't show stress at the appropriate moments out of fear! (By way of comparison, parts of the primary motor cortex have been found to 'light up' when people imagine movement, not just when they excecute it).

      But what if someone with no symptoms is diagnosed as having a tendency toward mental illness because of a brain profile?

      IMO, there is an enormous risk of misdiagnosis using this technology - currently, brain mapping involves a lot of "stamp collecting" and relatively little consideration of how the individual areas of the brain might function as a series of joined up units (and there are a lot of units).

      • by NetSettler ( 460623 ) <> on Thursday May 01, 2003 @03:15PM (#5855216) Homepage Journal
        IMO, there is an enormous risk of misdiagnosis using this technology


        There's a story I heard in AI class about early 'perceptron' research. (A perceptron is, to round numbers, an especially badly conceptualized neural program that can be trained to recognize things... well, some kinds of things. We've since learned there are some limits to what they can recognize.) Anyway, as the story goes, these perceptrons were trained to recognize (you guessed it) tanks. And after a while, they were apparently pretty reliable in the lab using pictures of tanks so they took them out to the field. In the field, they failed. Apparently, what they had learned to recognize in the pictures wasn't "tanks" but "lateness in the day" (which is when the tanks were rolled in); apparently, all the pictures of an empty field (no tanks) were taken earlier in the day when it was lighter. So all the training was wrong.

        Somehow I expect if we deploy these brain testers, we might get initially very good results only to find out later (if we're lucky enough to find out at all) that we're measuring something like "how good a breakfast you had" or something like that--probably something with a vague statistical correlation that allows the truth to be hidden behind 'acceptable degree of failure' during heavy testing.

        Who will audit what the machines really do measure? And will we use the machine to audit those auditors to make sure they're being competent in their auditing?

        And what about savants and others who've had brain injury? Doesn't the data suggest that when you're absent a skill or sensory device, you recycle existing brain memory for "other purposes"? Will you get a pass on these brain tests if you're blind and using your would-be visual memory store for "something else" or will you get graded as if your use is the same as everyone else's or will you be treated as "someone with something to hide" for having a custom brain layout?
      • I suspect the key word is when. There are already systems that appear to reliably identify when a person has seen an object before [], or how careful you are [] when speaking about something you've done.

        The former is potentially quite reliable, though the danger, of course, is that they appear more reliable than they actually are.

        One would think that there might be a case to be made again this kind of equipment on 5th amendment grounds.
    • I thought this was a serious issue, but then the voices in my head told me not to worry about it.

  • by Em Emalb ( 452530 ) <> on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:32PM (#5854680) Homepage Journal
    Only $19.95....that's right ladies and gentlemen,
    get your tinfoil hat from Think Geek right now.

    Comes replete with roguish angle setting device.

    Uhm, yeah.
  • AFDB! (Score:3, Funny)

    by SteakandcheeseUm ( 191173 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:33PM (#5854686) Homepage
    Would my Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie work in this instance? Or break the machine...
  • Gah! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PopeAlien ( 164869 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:34PM (#5854698) Homepage Journal
    Sounds sort of horrific and frightening at first.. but what if anyone could read anyones mind? Would that really be such a bad thing? It would make it damn hard to have anysort of fraud in a situation like that.
    • Some people have bad enough grammar when they speak. I'd hate to see what's in their heads that's not making it out their mouths. What makes you think you could understand what's in anyone's head?
    • Re:Gah! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dissy ( 172727 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:42PM (#5854831)
      Its still all cause and effect.

      Most lies are not told simply to be dishonest.
      Most lies are told because I know you would be aginst my answer if it was the truth.

      Secrets need to be kept until every person understands everyone else.
      Until that time, you can not have a fully open and honest group of people.

      Does the homosexual not tell everyone they are homosexual because they intend to trick people or are ashamed? No. They dont tell people because there are (good) chances the person would not understand and treat them badly.

      It's like drugtests at the work place. Do drugs make people a better or worse employee? Neither of those answers will apply 100% of the time. Yet its assumed 'worse' is always right even when its not. This is why people keep their drug use secret.

      I would be all for a planet where all humans could read everyone elses minds and there were no secrets. But to have that, I would not want people to judge me incorrectly based on what I think.

      This is basically what we do now.
      If you for example were homosexual, or did drugs, you dont tell 'everyone' this, but you tell the people who are your friends or better, who you know won't react out of fear or misunderstanding.

      The best answer is for everyone in the world to be just as understanding of everyone as you and your best friends are.
      At that point, secrets will be unneeded.
    • "but what if anyone could read anyones mind? Would that really be such a bad thing?'

      If *everyone* could read anyones mind, it probably wouldn't be such a bad thing. Unfortunately, in our society, such tools rarely empower everyone. The tool becomes another advantage used by an already empowered minority.

    • I think the thing that spooks me the most is that others may think they are reading my mind but in fact are not. I'm actually not too worried about people accurately reading my mind because I believe that I'm a decent person. But this technology won't be failure-proof and many might believe that it is. I'd hate for the machine to claim that I'm thinking about terrible thing X when, in fact, I would never really think such a thing. How would I argue against that?

      Work published last year by Dr. Daniel D

    • Well, *I* don't think so.... but I'd imagine an awful lot of women that I see as I'm walking around the city might consider it a bad thing...

      I don't think humans have evolved to the point where complete honesty is a viable option. While lies can get you into trouble, telling the 100% truth will cause just as much where it matters.
  • Info (Score:2, Troll)

    by greg_barton ( 5551 ) * cle.html
  • Why not? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Meat Blaster ( 578650 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:34PM (#5854706)
    Making a potential employee whiz in a cup in front of a stranger became an acceptable business practice overnight. Scanning brains seems pretty civil in comparison.
    • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by neurostar ( 578917 ) <(moc.novirp) (ta) (ratsoruen)> on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:39PM (#5854781)

      Making a potential employee whiz in a cup in front of a stranger became an acceptable business practice overnight. Scanning brains seems pretty civil in comparison.

      But the stuff in your piss is because of someting (drugs, alcohol, etc) that you've done. A brain scan searches for things that you didn't cause, and things that you can't change.

      • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:43PM (#5854843) Homepage Journal
        "that you can't change. "

        Sure, you can change them.
        But then you fail the piss in the cup test!

      • I'm not a doctor, so I'm not aware of the full range of things detectable in urine, but it almost certainly includes things one wouldn't necessarily have to (or want to!) disclose to a potential employer, such as anti-depressant medication or diabetes, which could unfairly tag a person as being a possible liability down the line and therefore less than desirable for reasons beyond his/her control.
        • but it almost certainly includes things one wouldn't necessarily have to (or want to!) disclose to a potential employer, such as anti-depressant medication or diabetes, which could unfairly tag a person as being a possible liability down the line and therefore less than desirable for reasons beyond his/her control.

          True, except that they'd have to be paying for those additional tests. And when you sign the forms and chain of custody at the lab, you're giving them permission to do specific tests for the pr
    • Pee in a cup can't tell them much more than what I've ingested for the past X hours. Scanning may be less physically intrusive, but it's hardly civil. Personally I'll be purchasing one of these tin foil hats [], thank you very much.
  • Frightening (Score:5, Insightful)

    by beatniklew ( 623731 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:36PM (#5854734) Homepage
    The part that makes this the most frightening is that we've seen recently how far people are willing to go if they think that security is at hand. The Patriot Act and Patriot II (return of the civil liberty abuses), both passed with widespread support, just because people were scared. With the right amount of fear, this technology will not only be allowed, but mandated in usage to screen for "potential security risks"
    • This should be modded up! This is the exact point I was trying to make (and probably failed) This may help find a few of the bad guys, but at what price?
    • Don't take this in any way shape or form as support from me for any of the draconian measures the US gov't has put into place, but I wasn't aware Patriot II passed. Do you have something to back this up? Thanks.
    • And that's why one day all of us free thinking geeks will step into one of Mr. Carmack's rocket ships and start us a new nation.
    • >The Patriot Act and Patriot II (return of the civil liberty abuses)

      Its not just about secuity per se. Employee screening got ridiculously out of hand during the beginging of the "war on some drugs." An applicant in the US today is expected to go through a background check, written psychological tests, and a urine/hair sample. We lost our privacy rights long ago and this could be the next step. On what legal ground could anyone fight this when they're already giving their piss away?

      Sure, there are
      • I guess that if society is willing to accept genetic/psych/drug screening, we're going to also have to accept universal health care, mental health care and drug rehabilitation.

        Of course, at the moment, society seems dumb enough that they don't see why things like the patriot act are a bad thing. They'll learn. Usually the hard way.

  • Maybe there IS something to those tinfoil hats [] after all! Hmmm...

  • irony (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:36PM (#5854744) Homepage Journal
    Could soldiers be screened for homosexuality?

    I always find it ironic that technologies created by open-mindedness have to ability to empower the narrow-minded.
  • Uh Oh (Score:5, Funny)

    by theBraindonor ( 577245 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:36PM (#5854746) Homepage
    Now my boss will know how burned-out and disgruntled I have become... I'm so screwed...
  • REad the book out ther "profiler" I think thats the name. HEs one of the guys who works out the psychologal profile of wanted murders and serial killers. He basically claims that he can tell who a serial killer is just by the fact that they follow his profile.

    Its getting to the point where any variaton from the median of society is being seen as wrong, or a disease. Speaking as an outlier, fuck you.

    • He basically claims that he can tell who a serial killer is just by the fact that they follow his profile.

      You're talking about some seriously deranged individuals here, and it's been known for decades that serial killers do fit some rather general profiles. What's the surprise here?

      Alternately, what's the issue here? We're talking about freaking murderers. Sick individuals, in pretty much every sense of the word, that need to be removed from society before they harm more people.

      Its getting to the point
  • Could synesthesiacs [] be given preferential job offers as novelists and playwrights?
  • by DeepDarkSky ( 111382 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:38PM (#5854772)
    to figure out what is going on in someone's head by looking at the things that the person does or say, the external manifestations of a person's thoughts. If you are concerned about your "brain privacy", just don't talk to people, post on Slashdot or a personal blog, don't write letters or emails, etc.

  • DMCA (Score:5, Funny)

    by wowbagger ( 69688 ) * on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:39PM (#5854779) Homepage Journal
    I'm sorry, but I hold the copyright over my brain and the information therein, and your brain scanner is an unlawful circumvention device under the DMCA.

    My lawyers will be calling.
  • Covered in a SF book (Score:3, Informative)

    by koreth ( 409849 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:40PM (#5854787)
    This sort of thing is the premise of a book I read a few years back, The Truth Machine [] by James Halperin. The premise is that someone develops a brain scanner that can tell with absolute certainty whether someone is lying. Halperin paints a pretty optimistic picture of the results; I think he underestimates how profoundly uneasy this kind of thing would make people, but I think he's right on the money in predicting that if such a device existed and were available at an affordable price, there'd be no stopping the spread of it and no avoiding its profound impact on the way society works.

    I'm one of the folks who feels uneasy, but on the other hand I'm not quite sure I can bring myself to believe that the potential harm of some of these developments outweighs the benefits -- if the technology can be applied in both directions, not just by the police. If I can quiz a politician on what his real motivations were for passing a law and be assured that he's not dodging the question, it might not be quite as onerous to be unable to lie about breaking it. But even with that thought in mind, I'm still uneasy.

  • that since every brain is wired a little differently, that the scanners would have to be calibrated to each individual. This would prevent mass scanning of people, unless everyones baseline brain scan was on file. Though it would not prevent companies from requiring brain scans like they do drug screening.
  • Wage slaves can breathe easy for a little while. Tests like this would be so fantasically expensive that most companies would not bother to screen prospective employees (depending on the organization....there can be hundreds at a time) in this fashion. You might see this in sensitive/high-responsibility environments, but I laugh at the idea of tightfisted companies brain-scanning their cubicle drones or factory workers.

    Worry more about health information getting leaked. Or about how a good handwriting sa

    • But these companies do check with insurance agencies for things like does this person take x medication or sees a physcologist. Its nearly impossible to prove but it goes something like this. HMOX calls HR and sells their package to companyA. HR considers the package and decides to approve it only under the deal that they can call them for employee scanning. In large fortune 500 companies these HMO's bend over because their accounts are so huge.

      You may think this is illegal but its not! It is illegal for a

  • 1: Mind control police run towards you
    2: Press double-barrelled 12 gauge shotgun to forehead
    3: Squeeze trigger.
    4: Laugh all the way to the morgue.
  • This is rediculous (Score:5, Informative)

    by DJStealth ( 103231 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:48PM (#5854914)
    This is rediculous, I'm doing some work on neurobiology wrt attention for my CS Masters in Computer Vision. From reading some of the recent research, I don't think the field of neurobiology is anywhere close to being able to determine such concepts from an fMRI or anything similar.

    • Nope but a friendly call to your insurance company can determine this without a brainscan.

      You mean this potential employer saw a physcologist! Ok lets filter this freak out....

    • by deblau ( 68023 ) <> on Thursday May 01, 2003 @04:17PM (#5855976) Journal
      I participated in neurological research for the Salk Institute [] at the UCSD Thornton Hospital MRI [] last year, and they're nowhere near anything like this.

      Let me explain the experiment, for those of you who are curious about the state of the art in neuro research. The purpose of the experiment was to determine the location in the brain of areas which are active during certain tasks. The task I was given was a memory / reflex test. I was given a button, and shown a sequence of letters at varying rates. I was supposed to press the button when I saw a letter that was identical to the letter shown two letters earlier. So if I saw E-C-E-C-C, I'd press the button on the second E, and again on the second C, but not the third C. (This is a hard enough test without being a medical experiment!)

      First, they wired me up for an EEG. This involved sitting still for about 45 minutes while two people stood over me, put a skullcap with wires on my head, and went over each electrical contact with some grease and a little wooden dowel to move the hair out of the way so the electrodes would have good contact with the skin. (The goop washed out in the shower, but it felt funny driving home.) Then they stuck me in the MRI, with a mirror in front of my face at a 45 degree angle so I could look past my feet without sitting up (impossible in that tiny tube). Then they performed the tests.

      I was in the tube for about 90 minutes, most of it not moving any muscles except for my finger to press the button. If you move any muscles, your whole brain lights up with activity, and it throws off the readings. It was also noisy in there, because I was laying in the middle of a huge electromagnet being bombarded with radio waves. After it was over, they showed me a 3D brain scan, and I got to see a 2D plot of my brain waves by color (blue for theta waves, green for alpha, red for gamma, etc etc).

      Back to the topic at hand. Unless they suddenly find a way to carry around a $1.5M electromagnet, hide it somewhere where no one can see or hear it, convince people to walk through it somehow (Futurama tubes, anyone?), figure out a way to filter out all the extra brain noise from people walking, talking, and doing all the other things we normally do, and somehow interpret the data in a time-relevant manner, there's no way anyone is going to make "brain scanning" work. OTOH, maybe there is a way after all [].

  • Will I get sued for sexual harassment if they get a real sexy nurse to do my brain scan?
  • Fuck ethics, this is bigger than that. It's an entire shift in the human experience.

    If everyone has this technology, we would probably no longer care about privacy. We want privacy because some of us (rightfully!) have something to hide, such as being gay.

    But if everyone can read each other's minds, the need disappears because every last one of us would be laid bare before our peers. How do you discriminate if everyone is a "pervert"?

    Now, if the government (the big bad government :)gets this type of tech
    • by sirgoran ( 221190 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @03:18PM (#5855265) Homepage Journal
      I have to disagree with you. People need privacy. There is no reason for anyone to know everything about what I say, think, or do.

      I have nothing to hide, but my privacy is my own.
      Am I gay? No.
      Am I a criminal (Caught or not)? No.
      Am I trying to hide something? No.
      But, if I look at a woman and think to myself, "Boy I'd sure Like to F*** her!" That thought is my own and not something that anyone has the right to know about me. Thinking that doesn't make me a rapist nor someone to fear or "keep tabs" on.

      Much like if I thought to myself, "Boy, the President is a dumb sonofabitch." That too is not something that I feel is something that should be public knowledge nor held against me. Just because I might think something doesn't make me guilty of anything.

      Much like this discussion, it's my opinion and I should be the one to choose if and when I want to share it.

      Everyone has a right to their own personal privacy. Just because someone enjoys their privacy, it doesn't make them a criminal. Did you ever think that it might protect you FROM the criminals? What would happen if everyone could know if you were scared of them. Wouldn't that make you a target of those that would exploit that fear?

      Any kind of brain scanning that invades my privacy, or makes public my privacy is wrong.

      That's my two bits on the matter.
  • the amygdala, which generates and registers fear and is also associated with emotional learning, lit up more when students were shown unfamiliar black faces than unfamiliar white faces.

    How does this automatically indicate unconscious racism? I'm sure there could be other possible reasons for the reaction. How about that trying to process and recognize faces of a different race is usually more difficult than faces of one's own race []?

  • 'Perhaps child molesters and other criminals in the future will wear headgear that will monitor that brain region in order to determine when their intentions will be carried out,'' Hinrichs wrote. ''Would this be a reasonable method of crime prevention or a human rights violation?'

    I'm leaning toward reasonable method of crime prevention for convicted child molesters, rapists and violent criminals who are on parole. It could turn out to be awkward as far as social rehabilitation goes, though... I mean,

  • The Spartans (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RatBastard ( 949 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:50PM (#5854937) Homepage
    Could soldiers be screened for homosexuality?

    You know what's really funny about this? The most feared army in Greek times, the Spartans, were all gay. Many of them fighting shoulder to shoulder with their lovers.

  • This is not new information. They've been talking about implementing this at airports. The problem is... the first time they hit an armed forces vet with a steel plate in their head... they're screwed. Privacy issues under the name of 'terrorism protection' are going to get a real shot of reality wehn they realise that these privacy invasions aren't going to work for everyone. And the problem is that hitting a metal plate with magnetism DOES DAMAGE, it doesn't just block out the, um, well, i guess in this c
  • What a load.... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bcollier06 ( 667189 )

    That was one of the most poorly researched articles I've read about brain imaging. When will magazines and newspapers stop hyping up a technology that will never deliever the big brother scenarios they try to drum up ratings with....... For starters, MRI doesn't measure brain activity!

    MRI imaging can only measure blood flow in a certain area, not the actual eletrical impulses of your brain. The way it works is by using huge magnetic pulses it forces all that wonderful iron-rich blood in your head to align

  • some predict this will be a bigger ethical issue than genetics

    That makes sense. I expect that your brain is much more likely than your DNA to determine your behavior. However, DNA can be fully sequenced right now. I would bet we're a long way off from being able to fully map a human brain.

    Also, I think that much of the expectation of the privacy of one's thoughts is founded on the fact that today nobody else can be sure what those thoughts are. The examples in the article are fairly crude tools rela

  • by adzoox ( 615327 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @02:58PM (#5855033) Journal
    I remember a while back (10-12 years ago) I applied for a job at Toys R Us. For that job, I had to fill out a lengthy multiple choice survey. A question was asked 3 different ways at 3 seperate points during the survey.

    A question like:

    A Customer is demanding they get their money back for a product we don't carry or that will not scan. You

    A) Da da da da

    B) Da da do da


    C) Da da de da

    This was clearly a personality test as some of the questions had no "wrong answers" with some choices seeming better. But better to who?

    I was told at the beginning of the survey, the answers had NO bearing on my employment chances. If it didn't, why administrate it?

    And while this may get this post moderated "funny" I also have this point to make:

    Companies like CompUSA make you go through a ridiculous "smile for the customer course". I beleive it's intent was two fold. One, to test to see if an applicant would be driven into a psychotic state. Two, to alert management to "moldable corporate clones".

    The training at CompUSA was over two weeks and touched on subjects like greeting customers and asking specific questions. I consider a lot of the training like this; if you don't know how to sell, or you were not born with the ability to sell (some aren't) then CompUSA is not the job for you. I do agree with training. But to tell people they need to sell at CompUSA by Mary Lou Retton (I kid you not) that you are part of the "Winning Team" with a twinkling smile is absurd and belittling. I really do consider this type of training a "personality test" with a twist.

    I am sure that some jobs use training and other subliminal ways to test personality. While not a job, isn't this what Sororities and Fraternities do as initiatiations?

  • by mikeophile ( 647318 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @03:08PM (#5855150)
    that technologies such as these are only a threat if we remain passive to them.

    We are the techno-elite, right?

    Technology may be our plaything, but the technologies we do not own will own us.

    There is always a window of opportunity for the early adopters to acquire mastery over those who would use a technology to oppress. Plus, brain hacking might just be the ultimate in geek fun.

    While not everyone can afford to use their own MRI to do neuro-feedback hacking, there are tools that can be had right now that will let you do some serious tweaking of your own skull pudding. One such device is made by IBVA Technologies []

    IBVA has been at the forefront for the past few decades in building devices that allows one to view in real-time their own brain activity on Macs and PCs. They soon will be releasing a Linux version of their software.

    Hopefully, we'll stay ahead of the curve on this folks, because the dark side of this tech is pretty fucking dark.

    /end rant

  • The most conservative view of the brain's power say that it's a computer program. The most elaborate theories also envision that there are other structures like souls that can't be 'caught on tape'. Strangely, I'd be the hardcore conservatives wanting to use this technology are statistically more likely to be those who say we have unmeasurable souls. Just a guess. But if it's so, I wonder how they rationalize that.

    But let's take the conservative view--that the brain is just a computer program that is trillions or quadrillions of times more complex than your average programming project for work. Now we're talking about hooking us up to a machine that has no idea what a single line of source looks like, no idea what data has been preloaded, and is just going to watch the approximate equivalent of the blinking lights on the console and tell me if my program is not only functioning correctly now, but whether it's predicted to function correctly in the future?

    Geez, forget core dumps, stack debuggers, tracing tools, and all that. I just want one of these cool push-button debugging tools for writing programs!! People pay enormous amounts for teams of people to pour over source code for days or weeks or more on projects so trivial as today's... and it's apparently all wasted. We could have solved the whole Y2K problem by just letting this machine watch the blinky lights on the front of some COBOL boxes and tell us that the planes wouldn't crash and the elevators wouldn't stop. Why didn't we rush them into production if they were this close to ready?

    Or is it possible that the effectiveness is slightly oversold?
  • When I first scanned the blurb, I read it as concern about Brian Piracy, and that some terrible new form of IP law was about to be born.

    Imagine my relief...
  • Not to worry (Score:3, Insightful)

    by crgrace ( 220738 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @03:18PM (#5855259)
    My wife is a behavioural neuroscientist and let me say that Neuroscience hasn't advanced that much. They only have rather vague ideas about which brain regions are involved in, not responsible for, certain general classes of behaviour. Don't mix up correlation with causation. Brain sciences are pretty much still in the "look for correlation" phase, and are FAR, FAR, away from any predictive value, expect certain specialized clinical areas. The brain is so complex that we may be incapable of understanding it. It's like peeling an onion.
  • I was searching around Kaaza for some pr0n and I came across a download of my brain! Albeit it was a few months old and didn't include any of the more recent American Idol memories, but I still feel cheated that someone stole my thoughts and posted them on the web for anyone to download.

    It also wasn't too comforting to see that it was only a 2 meg download.

  • by OwnerOfWhinyCat ( 654476 ) * on Thursday May 01, 2003 @03:32PM (#5855461)
    This science will require us to grow socially, or regress into something ugly.

    In both cases there will be untold millions for large corporations to save by abusing this technology. If we do not fight for our rights to be ourselves, companies will require periodic brain-scans as easily as periodic drug checks. They won't have to pay attention to individuality or the cause of one person's odd brain-patterns, they will justify it with statistics. "People with your brain-type are 80% more likely to become unhappy at this job, therefore we will not risk hiring you." They won't care that 5% of the people with your brain-type do especially well at that job, because they will work the percentages and it won't pay to take the risk.

    The pay off of having faith in people doesn't show up on the bottom line, and the burden of having faith in people is one that the "gifted" or "blessed" often don't want to shoulder. If we want these scientific advances to be stairs for the ascension of mankind into the kind of species we can truly admire, then we must bridge this social gap. We must say as a society that we are willing to pay the price in dollars and cents, in mistakes and losses, to retain our diversity and that of our neighbors, even when we don't understand or approve of them.

    Numerous studies have shown, the category of people who smoke has more accidents to it's credit than that of people who don't. As it stands, today it is legal to charge someone more for insurance if they smoke, than if they don't. Smokers have become the outsiders. This injustice remains. It is based on a statistic no more or less true than:

    • People who smoke pot have a greater chance of becoming addicted to pot.
      Can't really argue that one.
    • "People who steal in their youth are more likely to steal as adults."
      Also very true, and plainly so when you consider it's corollary.
    • The first black person on your board of directors will have a harder time "getting along."
      This, in my limited exposure to such things is also likely to be true, and were the mechanism to exist to quantify such things (one day it will) I'll wager that statistics would bear this out.
    As technology advances more "truths" like these will exist, and the scientific evidence to back them up will become undeniable. The socially myopic corporations of the world will want to modify the way they treat the people who fall into the categories above in a profitable fashion and they will fight for their perceived right to do so.

    The question of how to move forward is not one of fighting discoveries, or denying the obvious.
    It is one of willfully choosing to make illegal and immoral by our societies standards, any use of indirectly related statistical phenomena to alter or inhibit any citizen's opportunities in any endeavor the public is permitted to regulate.

    Most of us would raise hell if our auto insurance company demanded the right to to base our insurance rates on the following questions:

    Have you ever stolen anything in your life?
    Have you ever smoked canabis?
    Are you of African American descent?

    And we can be proud of that fact.

    How many of us left the question box "Do you smoke?" unanswered and got on the insurance agent for being at the root of a Gattacan state?

    Is it because of how incredibly annoying it is to step outside a crowded shopping area yearning to breath fresh air only to find our lungs filled by a cloud of noxious fumes? Is it the meal ruined by the elderly folk, who sat at the edge of the smoking section in a restaurant in our youths and managed to billow forth more atmospheric poisons than a '66 Chevelle? What ever our reason for just checking the box handing over the form, does it really justify making them pay more for mandatory auto insurance? Is any reason you could give any less a prejudice than would be implied by seeing the three questions in my list above listed on a job application?

    Gattaca ends or begins with us.
  • by pcraven ( 191172 ) <paul.cravenfamily@com> on Thursday May 01, 2003 @03:32PM (#5855462) Homepage
    It would be great to screen the boyfriends my daughter brings home. I could set curfew based upon the 'horney level' of the boyfriend.
  • by dhaines ( 323241 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @03:40PM (#5855564)
    Now we know how the machines really know what Tasty Wheat tasted like.
  • The future ain't what it used to be - Yogi Berra
  • by 0x69 ( 580798 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @03:47PM (#5855643) Journal
    Once a lie-detecting brain scanner is reasonably available, there'll be some public challenges to sleazy politicians to answer (under the scanner, with cameras rolling) questions like "did your vote on bill X have more to do with that fat campaign donation than with the good of the country?"

    The media will hype this up so far, it'll make the Clinton sex scandals look like a 5-over-limit speeding ticket.

    Conclusion - self-serving sleazy politicians will make sure than brain scanners are *extremely* illegal.
    • self-serving sleazy politicians will make sure that brain scanners are *extremely* illegal

      This is a fine point, and I don't dispute it.

      However, politicians have other defenses as well. One such defense is changing the form of the question. Remember they are always at risk of having anything they say proven wrong, so they try not to say anything with interesting truth value at all.

      One common politician trick is to make sure all questions about what they support are single-place predicates ("Do you favo
  • "Threat"? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Blondie-Wan ( 559212 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @03:55PM (#5855724) Homepage
    He also identified the ''insidious threat'' that corporations could try to worm their way into consumers' minds.

    "Threat"? "Could"?? Do they mean it hasn't happened yet??


  • by cartman ( 18204 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @04:07PM (#5855840)
    Strangely enough, something like this has already been done. The military investigated a series of devices that measure sexual attraction, in order to screen out homosexuals. The idea was that they could put new male recruits in front of mostly-undressed pictures of athletic young men, then measure the level of sexual excitation, and screen out the homosexuals.

    By the way, one of the devices used to measure sexual excitation was called a "Penile Photoplathismograph". It measures blood flow to the sexual organ, and most youngish men can't help but get a little bit of an erection when exposed to a picture of a naked attractive potential sex object.

    ANYWAY, the idea was abandoned, for two reasons. First, some of the extremely homophobic people could not pass the test themselves. This grants some credence to the notion that angrily homophobic people are sometimes having some kind of internal conflict. Second, people who are "bisexual" to some extent greatly outnumber people who are outright gay. Although men who are exclusively homosexual make up 1-2% of the population, people who will evince at least some attraction to members of the same sex make up 5-6% of the population. Kicking out 6% of the military would be a problem.
  • Screening Soldiers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @04:20PM (#5856017)
    "Could soldiers be screened for homosexuality?"

    No, because that violates the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" regulation. Half of that policy is "Don't Ask."

    Of course, screening someone's brain with that kind of precision will probably tell you that homosexuality has little impact in one's ability to serve in the military.
  • by praedor ( 218403 ) on Thursday May 01, 2003 @04:32PM (#5856196) Homepage

    Brainscanning and other monitoring abilities would give a company/gov't (the same thing these days, particularly in the USofCorp America) power similar to that of the "Emergent" in A Deepness in the Sky

    by Vernor Vinge.

    Picking up impulses whether acted on or not, knowing who is hot for who whether it is "secret" or not, knowing who is PO'd/disgruntled and thus a "security risk" and in need of firing or pre-emptive jailing (or indefinite detainment by the gov't under out current Shrub).

    The possibilities for superb abuse are wondrous. Can't wait for widespread law-enforcement use, gov't use, and corporate use. Those tin foil hats would start to come in handy about then but they would be a dead giveaway that you have something to hide and thus need to be detained, fired, etc.

"My sense of purpose is gone! I have no idea who I AM!" "Oh, my God... You've.. You've turned him into a DEMOCRAT!" -- Doonesbury