Friday, February 16, 2007
Imaging the pre-criminal mind
Remember that Tom Cruise movie "Minority Report," where the cops were able to see into the future and then bust people for crimes that they were going to commit, before they committed them? That was science fiction, but what if I told you we're not so far away from a world where reading people's intentions becomes a regular thing?

A team of researchers, led by John-Dylan Haynes at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany, has figured out a way to use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology to decode what people are intending to do in the future. They train their computers to learn what your fMRI brain patterns look like when you have certain thoughts, and then use that knowledge to figure out what you're about to do.

For now, they're only able to read intentions with about 70 percent accuracy. And you can't just grab someone off the street and figure out his or her intentions immediately. First the fMRI machine has to be calibrated to each person, and it's a huge machine so you have to actually bring the person to the machine. At most you can read very binary or "yes-no"-type answers for one thing at a time, and you have to pre-determine what the possible outcomes are going to be. For example, the researchers asked test subjects to decide ahead of time whether they were going to either add or subtract two numbers, and then the scientists trained their computers to recognize what the brain looked like for each of the two results.

Despite the limitations, Dr. Haynes says we're about 20 or 30 years away from having "Minority Report"-type technology, which to me doesn’t sound like much longer. In the next couple of years, as the next generation of more sensitive fMRI machines are developed, we're probably going to see these systems used commonly as more accurate lie detectors, for neuromarketing (detecting consumers' attitudes about products), and for prospective employee screening.

Ethicists are up in arms over all this. We're ushering in an era of using personal medical data in a whole new way, and some of it can feel... scary. Other research has been done using fMRI brain scanning to detect whether someone is having moral or amoral thoughts, or whether his or her brain looks like one of a criminal psychopath or a non-criminal. Scientists have also recognized what the brain looks like when it is able to control feelings of arousal, so there is now talk of using that information to decide whether a sex offender in prison has been fully rehabilitated or not.

Soon it may be possible to read people's future intentions even before they are conscious of them. Do you think we should welcome this brain-reading technology, or are we opening up Pandora's box here?
It's inevitable, and honestly, it's not really that hard to do. This isn't a discovery; It is the natural evolution of image recognition and relatively simple AI being applied to brain images where the subject does different types of problem solving. The only real novelty is it's in real time.

The key to success here will be commercial. Imagine in 2016 we have the Nintendo Wii Neural(tm) which you wear a headband that "learns" your thoughts. Then, you can sit and think at the stupid thing and get it do what you want. Eventually, all gaming will become pure thought while physical reflexes on computers will be considered passe. Imagine a room full of teenagers just sitting there "thinking" each other to death without saying a word. It's when the device is able to provide neural feedback that we should begin to worry....

Another use would be interrogation. If you can easily predict when an "enemy combantant" is fabricating a lie, or is telling the truth with 90% accuracy, there is no need to send them off to another country to be tortured, now is there?

What about using this technology to study autistic thinking in social situations? In the future, if the technology evolves in a way that allows them to "map and record" the brains thinking style quickly during doctor visits, they will be able to literally see autism patterns as they evolve within the brain. It may help create a better understanding of genetic vs. enviromental influences on autism. You could have an entire history of a persons brain development from childhood through death.

Let's even go deeper into the future. Study people like Stephen Hawking. How do they arrive at their particular conclusions? What is it that makes John Carmack so efficient in his engineering approaches? Why is one doctors "approach" to diagnosis always superior to other doctors with similiar education and backgrounds?

These are some of the benefits I foresee this type of technology bringing to the table. Thinking about a Minority Report situation is rather silly because that involved telepathy, not a physical device that you must have with you....though I must admit there are striking similiarities.
Pandora's box is an understatement. Read my mind? No, thank you. My mind is not safe for viewing :)
The benefits could be staggering, and video games controlled by thoughts would be crazy cool. However, I for one am not ready to accept the natural implications that others have the right to look inside my thoughts. Used (as it inevitably will) by law enforcement, it would be a gross violation of privacy and a major slap in the face of the privacy laws that have evolved over the last 50 years. Thanks Big Brother, but No Thought Police for me. There is no way to make scientists NOT develop this technology, but--as the technology evolves--we should all be very aware of how it is used and abused, and stand together to protect our civil rights from further government intrusion.
This is an absolutely ridiculous and absurd waste of the resources of our civilization. Before we begin to develop "exotic" uses for MRI technology that border on being immoral and unethical, how about making the technology more affordable and accessible to billions of people that are in need of medical diagnosis and treatment. As a person who was involved in the original development of MRI computing techniques, I am appalled by the misdirection of the global corporations that own and drive this technology.
An intial first reaction to news like this is shock and an aversion to such invasive methods of research. Although such large scientific strides towards neurological advancement are somewhat disturbing, when used correctly, these fMRI images could be used to prevent all types of perverse and detrimental events. Such machinery should not be used for personal gain or frivoulous curiosity, but potentially dangerous suspects who would today manage to commit an unforseen heinous crime, this technology may be a deterrent. Acts of terrorism and violence could be predicted and ahead of time, and hindsight wouldn't have to be our major "guiding light". When not abused and utilized in a purely invasive manner, a great deal of tragedies could be avoided.
Rhis is going way to far! This is an understatement, but that is simply crossing boundaries. What does a man have if he does not have his own PERSONAL mind?!
If this technology requires someone make an interpretation of the results in order for it to work, it will always be wrong a percentage of times based on the ability and present attitude of the one who does the reading. I would hate to think that a persons future would be dependant on what kind of day someone else was having. Not to mention various pressures that can make someone do something a certain way to advance a cause or a future. Basically, people have no right inside someone elses head without that persons permission.
Pandora's Box!!! Oh my goodness. Realistically there is no way to ever be 100% accurate on this. People do change their minds in an instant on a daily basis. Especially those of us who tend to be on the ADHD side of life. Computers, humans and the most advanced technology are not God! There is no way with absolute accuracy the future decisions and actions of a person can be predicted. I am fearful this is on the level of cloning definitely a "Pandora's Box"!!
Like any technology, it can be used for good or evil. Can this be used to advance our knowledge and protect the human race? Yes. Can this be used to destroy and hinder? Yes. I agree with the ethicists - proceed with caution.
We can't arrest or detain people for what they might be thinking of doing, we need to hold people accountable for what they actually do. Will the thought police now tell us what thoughts we are allowed to have, invading every area of our lives, even our minds? This is a sci-fi horror movie scenario, and should not be permitted.
This process should be part of every parole hearing.
If we knew exactly what made Stephen Hawking tick, and John Carkmack so efficient we would be one step away from applying that knowledge to make everyone as intellingent or as efficient. Once that happened we would only need to combine that with a GPS device and the future of fMRI and then someone else - most likely the governemnt - would know exactly where we are at all times, what we have done, what we are doing, and what we will do. This whole thing sounds like 1984 if you ask me - a wonderful world where "Thought-Crime" is a reality. I'm glad to see that that Texas has jumped on the bandwagon though.
Just a thought, but if a machine knows what decision i am about to make, then doesn't that undermine the ever coveted notion of free will? It isn't exactly free will if it knows what I'm about to decide before I decide it. Granted i think this is hogwash because there is no way to predict the countless "random" stimuli our brains receive just by being out in the world.
Leave the mystry of mind as the mystry. It will be a boaring life if each one of us knew the intentions of coworkers,family memebers and the neighbours
Imagine a world where everyone could read everyone else's minds. I don't think we would be at peace with one another if we lived in a world like that (or if we could actually live without killing each other off in the first place). I'm sure each and one of us has had negative thoughts about one another from time to time. But, we don't necessarily mean to have those thoughts. Have you ever had a negative thought about your best friend and then come to realize that you were foolish and shouldn't have judged your friend a certain way? We're not perfect and that goes for our thoughts.

Although there may be advantages for such advancement in technology, there are disadvantages too. Take fictional books for example. I know many people who'd read books on murder cases, or even just books on wild, out of the box ideas for the purpose of pure entertainment, or maybe to escape the pains of this world just temporarily. Surely, after reading a book on murder or some kind of mystery case, it's natural for one to think about what he or she has just read. So naturally, if one had just finished a book on murder, then one would probably be thinking about what goes on in a murderer's mind prior to the murder. Is it fair to then use technology to read this reader's mind and conclude that this reader is about to commit murder? I think not.

Although our capital punishment system is not all perfect, we shouldn't go too far to the point where we are punishing more innocent people than the guilty ones. This goes along with the scapegoat idea, where one random, innocent person is punished for a crime he or she did not commit so that hopefully the crime that had occurred would not happen again.

We are all humans and we all have the capabilities of having various random thoughts. But how do you tell the difference between someone who is seriously going to behave in certain ways versus someone who is just having wild, random thoughts? Can technology "predict"? I don't think reading people's minds is necessarily a prediction of their future actions.
What if this MRI technology could be used as a more accurate lie detector to determine if a person HAD committed a crime, rather that to see if they WILL commit one? If that were indeed possible, I could foresee the day that we could put true criminals in jail, and vindicate some of the wrongfully accused.
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