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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 Reverse Gear ( 891207 ) * on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:11AM (#17945538) Homepage
    Well they still have some way to go before they reach Minority Report levels.

    As for interrogating people I guess it would not so much be their intentions as if whether they are telling the truth or not that is interesting.
    A scanning would probably take quite some time and involve people being questioned at the same time.
    Of course there are big ethical questions in this, I guess the anti-terror people in CIA and FBI would be quite interested in getting their hands on this technique, that is if they don't already use it.

    One scary place this could be used was to check religious beliefs, in some countries you are prohibited to believe anything else than what the state dictates.

    The intention part would also efficiently could be used for directing different robotics, as for example a fighter plane, which I seem to recall they have been working with something like this for the pilots for quite some time, to save the reaction time from the hand brain to pushing the button or whatever. I do remember some sci-fi movie about this at some point, but it is about to become reality also it seems.
  • Accesories (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Neme$y$ ( 700253 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:25AM (#17945598) Homepage Journal
    allows them to look deep inside a person's brain and read their intentions before they act.
    If I carry out the act anyway after they read my intentions, will that make them (neuroscientists) accesories to murder (for example)?
  • Hmmm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09, 2007 @04:37AM (#17945644)
    "we are also denying people who aren't going to commit any crime the possibility of proving their innocence."

    In a country that follows the principle of "in dubito pro reo" I shouldn't have to prove anything to be regarded as innocent. In the contrary, in such a country the governments ignorance is my bliss.
  • by scsirob ( 246572 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:02AM (#17945782)
    If someone (say, the infamous "terrorist") walks around planning to do something bad, I'm sure in his mind it's recorded as doing something good. How is this system supposed to tell what's good and bad?
  • Re:Very Disturbing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:07AM (#17945812)
    There is, as of yet, no laws prohibiting thinking about commiting a crime.

    I think about commiting crimes quite a bit. How would I rob a bank, for instance? Or "disappear" someone, without getting caught? If my country was occupied by a foreign army, what could I as an individual do to cause maximum damage to it?

    These are interesting and fun mental exercises, and of course novel writers think about this kind of stuff all the time. I just do this stuff in my head, and that's where it will stay. It does worry me however that these days it seems the law is beginning to view talking about doing something as if it was proof you will actually do it. If I had a friend that also liked doing this kind of mental exercise, and we discussed this kind of stuff via IRC, for instance, in the not too distant future I could envisage getting a visit from the police, or even ending up in jail, just for talking about stuff.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:15AM (#17945846)
    A few years ago I saw a report on TV about a paralysed person controlling a mousecursor only with his mind. I don't know anymore what kind of experiment it was or who did it, but the fact that it was so accurately that he could even play games like Pacman that way, was really amazing . When the reporters asked him what he actually had to think to make the cursor move, he said that it was nothing special, just "left" "down" "click" and so on.

    From this report it looked like it wasn't really more difficult to read a persons mind than doing any other kind of pattern recognition (e.g. voice recognition).
    Well, personally I guess it is a lot harder, but how much exactly?
  • by ChameleonDave ( 1041178 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:35AM (#17945942) Homepage

    That's not quite true.

    Okay, being Jewish gets you citizenship in Israel, making Jewish foreigners and their children the majority of current citizens. However, the Israelis did not ethnically cleanse all of the original inhabitants: a minority of Muslims, Christians and Druze still live there.

    A better candidate for a state with a required religion is probably the Vatican, whose 600 citizens are all Roman Catholic, mainly clerics.

    But this question of states with a compulsory religion is a bit of a red herring. The real danger with this technology is repressive states in general. What if all dark-skinned foreign nationals entering US airports have to take this glorified polygraph in order to check for unAmerican thoughts? What if Tony Blair decides that all new UK citizens need this machine to verify whether their oath of the allegiance to Liz Windsor is genuine?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 09, 2007 @05:50AM (#17946034)
    You just posted exactly what I wanted to write. I also am working on my Master Thesis in this field, and
    what I've been reading about this story is absolutely hilarious.
    People should understand this is not "mind reading" as much as understanding mental processes
    which are going on in that exact moment. It's not viable neither imaginable in the near future to
    read people's memories and or thoughts.
    It could be possible, however, in a near future to tell whether or not a person is lieing in that
    exact moment, like a truth machine you know... not that scaring.

    And I would like to underline how this field is about understanding human brain, and mainly about helping
    locked-in patients to have a way to communicate with the external world. Should BCI
    evolve fast enough, it could be the most revolutionary progress in Human Computer Interaction ever.
    That's what all of this is about, no 1984...
    Oh and by the way, minority report was NOT about mind reading... it was about predicting crimes, and if a predicted crime is a crime itself or not. (By the way, read the short story by Philip K Dick himself!!)


  • by pryonic ( 938155 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:07AM (#17946116)
    A scary thought indeed for me, a British republican (in the end the monarchy sense, not in a GOP sense).

    Fortunately we as Brits aren't forced to swear an allegiance to the Queen or even to the country. That kind of indoctrination into patriotism is unknown here,unlike certain other countries I can name. I'd rather be proud of my actions and their outcomes rather than be proud of an accident of birth.
  • by Excelcia ( 906188 ) <> on Friday February 09, 2007 @06:21AM (#17946168) Homepage Journal
    There are more fundamental issues with this technology than timing. The mapping of different areas of the brain to function is only accurate on a coarse level. The area of the brain that would be activated if the person was going to perform mathematics is known, but we can't differentiate what type of operation the person intended to perform. Testing for different emotions on a gross level is possible, but not the subject of those emotions. At least, not without actively flipping photos past the person. And even then, you'd tell little more than you would by simply looking at much more accessable physisiological responses available with a polygraph.

    Sorry, but this is oversensationalized. My guess is that they are trolling for funding.
  • by Zhe Mappel ( 607548 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @07:42AM (#17946466)
    "...they'd probably put my head in a guillotine," as Dylan sang.

    Quite apart from the ethical concerns this technology poses, the following tidbit is truly fascinating:

    The researchers are honing the technique to distinguish between passing thoughts and genuine intentions.
    I'd like to see if the technology could be harnessed for monitoring creativity, which is in one sense "passing thoughts." Suppose you could decipher activity that amounts to what we call inspiration. Now, with a feedback loop mechanism, you could see what affective states produce your best ideas.

    I want one of these to play with before the Thought Police get them.

  • by Elemenope ( 905108 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @08:52AM (#17946774)
    You are confusing apostasy, which is defined specifically as 'once being a member of a religion, but turning away from that religion' as opposed to simple 'belief in something else'. Apostasy is thought of in pretty much every religion as betrayal, since you were 'saved' but you turned your back on the truth, whereas if you are merely of a different belief, the attitude is more of pity for the 'ignorant unsaved'. In addition, in Islam, Jews and Christians get a 'not quite as benightedly stupid as everyone else' rank for believeing in the same God; they are called 'Dhimmi' or people of the Book.
  • Re:Very Disturbing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Archtech ( 159117 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @09:25AM (#17946992)
    "There is, as of yet, no laws prohibiting thinking about committing a crime".

    Strictly speaking, this is no doubt true. After all, how could you frame such laws, and how would you determine if anyone were guilty of breaking them?

    On the other hand, conspiracy is a crime and may be a very serious one, punishable by long periods in prison. 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.

    There is a deeper, far more worrying implication. These and other similar experiments have shown that researchers can sometimes know exactly what another person is going to do *before that person himself knows*. (We'll ignore that 70 percent accuracy rate for the time being). I think you will agree that drives a coach and horses through the idea of free will, and hence of criminal responsibility. If you can know, before I make up my mind, that I am going to commit a crime, and you arrest me for that intention - or just to prevent the crime - how can anyone possibly argue that I made a decision to commit the crime? I never got that far!

    I have always thought that the dichotomy between free will and predestination was fallacious, based on a lack of imagination or accurate language. I have an apple; I can either eat it, or leave it. Which will I do? Imagine God, who knows everything past, present, and future. He knows if I am going to eat the apple, just as he also knows when and how I shall die. If you prefer a non-religious alternative, consider the universe as a four-dimensional space in which all future events are just as fixed as past ones. Either way, the future is predetermined.

    Yet, at the same time, we have free will from our own point of view - because we don't have any way of knowing what will happen in future, even the things that we are going to do. Until I have either eaten the apple or put it away, I may not know what I am going to do. Similarly, armed with a knife and faced with someone who has wronged me, I may either stab them or not. Do I "choose"? Well, yes, or the word "choose" means nothing. But there isn't a little man in my head making decisions for me. In short, when we say someone chooses to do something, it is mostly a "black box" description that is useful for talking about other people. Look inside yourself for choice, and it isn't really there. It's like a rainbow - visible only from a distance.

    Experiments like these will eventually force us to confront the fact that punishing people for their "moral choices" is inconsistent with our scientific knowledge. We may well *choose* to go on doing so anyway, of course. Or we could shift our ground a little, and say that punishment is a way of conditioning people not to commit crimes - adjusting the expected outcome so that it is less likely to be an attractive one.
  • by pryonic ( 938155 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @09:42AM (#17947098)
    My passport (do you even have one?) say "British Citizen". I can vote, run for election myself, and say what I want against the queen without fear of the Government. I believe thats free speech? Yeah, we invented that.

    The above rights make me a citizen, and possibly also a subject of Lizzie. I'm not sure the two are mutually exclusive all.

    Personally I'd like to abolish the monarchy altogether, but its existence doesn't stop me being a British citizen.
  • Re:Germany, for one (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) <> on Friday February 09, 2007 @09:45AM (#17947122) Homepage
    No, no you can't.

    You have to cause to be published, or presented, your views that the holocaust didn't happen [or support the Nazi party, etc]. If someone compels you against your will, e.g., by forcibly reading your mind, then you're hardly at fault.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday February 09, 2007 @10:50AM (#17947804) Homepage Journal

    You can "prove" innocence to the same, imperfect degree that you "prove" guilt: by presenting evidence to that conclusion.

    I disagree. To a first approximation, "proof of innocence" requires the proof of the non-existence of evidence that you are guilty whereas proof of guilt requires to proof of existence of evidence of the same. It's a bit more subtle than that though. Consider the following cases:

    (1) Three reliable witnesses saw you plunge the knife into the victim's heart. Guilt proven.

    (2) Three reliable witnesses saw somebody else plunge the knife into the victim's heart, and the Dalai Lama swears you were trekking with him in Nepal at the time. Innocence proven? Nope. You may have hired/conspired with the person who did the deed.

    The difference is that it's always possible to postulate some plausible scenario in which the apparently innocent are actually guilty participants in the crime. If its plausible you might kill somebody, it's equally plausible that you might pay somebody else to do it while you establish an alibi.

    On the flip side, in order to turn the guilty result into an innocent, you must introduce an additional independent improbability: that you have an evil twin, that you were coerced into doing it, the twinkies made you do it.

    This is why suspicion is so difficult to defeat. Once I believe you are guilty, I can conjure up any number of perfectly plausble reasons to maintain that belief. However, if I believe your are innocent, my belief in that innocence is (relatively) easy to to shatter.

    We never formally "prove" guilt in a court, at least not in the mathematical sense--even when sending someone to the Electric Chair, we're merely "pretty sure he's guilty". There's nothing stopping us from creating a hypothetical where U.S. courts presume guilt, and it's up to you to prove your innocence once you've been charged.

    Statements about the world are not logically amenable to mathematical proof, because they are always conditioned on the credence we lend to different bits of contradicting evidence. In the world of pure aristotlean logic, there is no such thing as contradictory evidence. In the world of practicality there is information that is irretrievably lost.

    If a presumption of guilt was equivalent to a presumption of innocence, then we'd end up with the same conclusions all the time. But common sense tells us that a presumption of guilt would almost always end up in a conviction. The only way the two systems would be equivalent is if two conditions held: (1) we had all the posssible relevant evidence and (2) we were utterly certain of condition (1). Then we'd end up with the same conviction rate under both systems. However, since we can never be sure of (2), it means that we can conjure plausible hypothetical evidence to cover the gaps in meeting requirement (1).

    Conditional probabilities come into the picture as well. If I assume you were guilty, and your best friend swears you were having a drink with him fifty miles away at the time of the murder, I have to assume that your best friend is covering for you. It's the most likely interpretation given the assumption of guilt.

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