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Brain Scanner Can Read People's Intentions 338

Vainglorious Coward writes "Reality continues to catch up with Nineteen Eighty-Four with the announcement of the development of a brain scanner that can read a person's intentions. 'It's like shining a torch around, looking for writing on a wall,' said the leader of the project, Professor John-Dylan Haynes . Demonstrating his own mastery of doublethink, Haynes continued 'We see the danger that this might become compulsory one day, but we have to be aware that if we prohibit it, we are also denying people who aren't going to commit any crime the possibility of proving their innocence.'"
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Brain Scanner Can Read People's Intentions

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  • by updog ( 608318 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:37AM (#17945650) Homepage
    And got away with it, if it wasn't for that meddling brain scanner...

    From TFA:

    During the study, the researchers asked volunteers to decide whether to add or subtract two numbers they were later shown on a screen.

    Before the numbers flashed up, they were given a brain scan using a technique called functional magnetic imaging resonance. The researchers then used a software that had been designed to spot subtle differences in brain activity to predict the person's intentions with 70% accuracy.

    Seems like a long ways to go before it could actually recognize anything meaningful...

  • by dostojevski78 ( 1004267 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:38AM (#17945656)
    The movie is probably the 1982 epic masterpiece (...) "Firefox", starring Clint Eastwood as the former POW Vietnam veteran who steals the USSR's newest toy: An incredibly high tech fighter jet. I don't recal iff the scene is part of the film, but i do recall a scene from the original book where the built in brain wave detectors in Mjr. Gant's pilot helmet picks up his desperat wish to shoot down a plane behind him, thus firing the anti-anti-air flares system and downing (!) the pursuting jet. The film is an exelent example of why actors should leave the director's chair to someone else by the way... []
  • Timing issues (Score:5, Informative)

    by venicebeach ( 702856 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:42AM (#17945678) Homepage Journal
    I think this is misleading.

    Functional MRI measures changes in blood oxygenation, which are indicitave of changes in neural activity. However, the hemodynamic response is slow, peaking about 6 seconds after the changes in neuronal firing rates. The decisions described in the article probably happen within milliseconds. The article is short on details, but what they probably did was analyze the data from the decision moment after the fact and see if they could use it to predict the subsequent action. This is different from actually knowing what someone is going to do before they do it, which is something that is practically impossible with fMRI due to the timing issues.
  • by tgv ( 254536 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:44AM (#17945688) Journal
    Ok, I work as a post-doc in the field and actually know the work of Haynes. They are not predicting someone's actions. Their fMRI data can distinguish between their subjects' state of mind after the fact. There are several fundamental differences between this experimental set-up and real action prediction. One of them is that fMRI doesn't yield a reliable signal until 6 seconds after the decision has been made. Another one is that in this experiment the action was carried out, i.e. it was not a hidden intention. In this experiment, subjects had to hold on to their decision during a variable time; i.e., they had to wait for a signal before taking the action, but they had to perform it. So in reality, the experiment looked at the process of holding on to a certain intention, and that intention was rather artificial. And it still cannot be done without knowing the outcome of the action, i.e., a large number of samples has to be taken with the subject's cooperation before any "prediction" can be made. So I would conclude that, interesting as the outcome may be, the article is highly exaggerated.
  • Re:Very Disturbing (Score:3, Informative)

    by badfish99 ( 826052 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:12AM (#17945834)
    There is, as of yet, no laws prohibiting thinking about commiting a crime.

    Only because thinking cannot (yet) be detected. There most certainly are laws against discussing the idea of committing a crime with someone else (i.e. conspiracy). If private thoughts could be detected, it would be a logical extension of this idea to criminalize thinking about a crime even if you planned to do it on your own.

    In fact, this has been proposed already: in the UK I've read a suggestion that mentally ill people should be imprisoned, if their illness is such that they are likely to commit some crime in the future.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:21AM (#17945880)
    But this has *nothing* to do with whether guilt or innocence can be proven, formally.

    You're both right to an extent. The people who founded our innocent until proven guilty system had in many cases themselves experienced the abuse of power the government/your neighbor could have by a presumption of guilt; by discovering the logical impossibility of proving their innocence. See the Salem Witch Trials which stayed fresh in the minds of Americans for generations, which are the gensis of the system.

    The abuse of power derives from the fact that charges can be levied in which no evidence based defense is possible under a presumption of guilt. Like, say, that you are a witch. It is Habeas Corpus and the procedures of bail that protect against legally unjust incarceration, which existed even before the presumption of innocence (and there are many places with legal systems based on British common law that still hold to a presumption of liability in civil cases. That is why James Randi is now an American citizen).

    However, "Guilty" and "Innocent" are both terms of legal presumption, not statements of actual fact. Nothing is "proven" per se. A judge/jury render a verdict. A legal finding. Which is legally binding. This is why in certain unusual cases you can have two people each serving time for being the sole perpetrator of a crime.

    It's also why it's perfectly ok to know that O.J. did it. His innocence is legal, not factual.

  • by bri2000 ( 931484 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:52AM (#17946048)
    In many Muslim countries apostasy is a crime punishable with death.
  • by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:00AM (#17946092)
    From Wikipedia:

    Today apostasy is punishable by death in the countries of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, Mauritania, the Comoros and, most likely, Iraq. Similarly, blasphemy is punishable by death in Pakistan. In Qatar apostasy is a capital offense, but no executions have been reported for it.
  • by CmdrGravy ( 645153 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:42AM (#17946240) Homepage
    In Scotland there is a 3rd possible outcome from prosecutions; Not Proven which means the defendant is probably guilty but there isn't enough evidence to prove it.
  • by Ihlosi ( 895663 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @07:23AM (#17946392)
    The big problem with MRI machines is the amount of magnetic shielding they need. Some big MRI machines would cause all compasses in the radius of a few miles to point at them if they weren't shielded properly.

    Actually, it's the other way round: The signals that the detector needs to pick up are so incredibly faint that any radio transmitter within a few miles would cause the detection of complete garbage instead of a useful signal.

    The magnetic field actually drops pretty quickly. You need to shield the MRI machine from the environment, not the other way round.

    Other issues that complicate making a "portable" MRI machine include the amount of support machinery needed for the superconducting magnets (big-ass refrigeration)

  • by MCraigW ( 110179 ) <`craig' `at' `'> on Friday February 09, 2007 @11:37AM (#17948542) Homepage

    Have you ever heard of Orson Wells? A little film about a newspaper publisher that some consider the greatest movie ever made?

    To clarify: Orson Wells made a little film about a newspaper publisher that some consider the greatest movie ever made. The film is "Citizen Kane". Wells directed, helped write, and acted in the film.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09, 2007 @02:56PM (#17951876)
    > What is a conspiracy? It may be no more than two people discussing some things that they *might* do some time in the future. No criminal act, you see. But still deemed to be a crime. Why is conspiracy a crime and not intention? I believe the real reason is simply that intentions have not previously been detectable or provable.

    IANAL, but my understanding of the law is that they have to have done something in "furtherance" of the crime. E.G. to have bought the things necessary to carry out the plan, to have enacted at least part of it, etc.

    So there's a difference between just claiming that you're going to blow up some building and doing that plus buying all the explosives necessary to do so.

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly