Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Don't Even Think About Lying: How Brain Scans are Reinventing the Science of Lie Detection" by Steven Silberman


Is it possible that a machine developed to visualize brain activity for medical research could become the next generation lie detector machine? FMRI machines were developed over ten years ago, and use functional magnetic resonance imaging to map the brain's networks while a person processes “thoughts, sensations, memories, and motor commands.” FMRI makes it possible for neurologists to detect early signs of disorders, locate brain tumors, assess new drugs and treatments, and pinpoint important parts of the brain before surgery. However, today the fMRI is being transformed into the new lie detector, using the same technology to detect cognitive differences in the brain when a person lies and tells the truth. This technology is said to be much more accurate than the polygraph lie detectors, which relies on the stress level of the person taking the test as well as the interrogation tactics of the person asking the questions. The developers of No Lie fMRI found 97% accuracy when using the machine with men and women who were asked to tell a lie or a truth. Scientists state that the regions of the brain that become activated during deception require more activity, and light up more than the areas activated when truth is told. This is because in order to tell a lie, the brain must first “stop itself from telling the truth, then generate the deception...” This process is easy to detect because when a person lies, there is more blood flow to the brain which becomes more oxygenated, and the functional imaging used by the machine allows a powerful magnetic field to make these cognitive functions visible to researchers. Mainly this technology is available to innocent people who want to purchase the services to prove that they are guilty, however it will become commercialized which could result in average Americans using the machine to uncover a cheating spouse or even dishonest business practices. The new No Lie fMRI has the ability to drastically change our security systems, judicial systems, law enforcement systems, and the way we live in today’s society. Scientists see the uses for the machine in "crime and society at large, in defense, and even for the insurance industry." The creators hope to have the fMRI tests used as evidence in court rooms, however many are concerned about the ethical implications this may have. People worry about the ability of the government to invade the personal privacy of our minds, comparing this type of control to the government in George Orwell’s 1984.

I agree that this technology would be great for helping those wrongfully accused prove their innocence; however, I do not think the technology has been tested thoroughly enough for American’s to fully rely on. I think that there are many questions that need to be asked about the accuracy of this type of technology. Do stress levels affect brain movements that would affect the precision of results? Does the existence of mental disorders, similar to those that many serial killers and rapists have change the neural movements in the brain that would be able to triumph over the fMRI? Is there any way to beat the fMRI system, the way that expert liars learned to beat the polygraph system? Does the use of drugs during the detection process have any effect on the outcome? All of these questions are important when analyzing the accuracy of a machine such as this. There are also other problems I found during research that would hider the use of the fMRI machine in daily activities. These machines are very large, and therefore are not portable or easy to transport, and they are also very expensive. In addition, the slight shake of the head or movement could also disrupt the procedure and affect the results.

This upcoming technology is definitely worth investigating and researching further, but I agree with the many critics of the No Lie fMRI that there are many aspects that need to be studied further. I think that in the future this type of machine could be very useful in our society, but has the potential to be very harmful at the same time if misused. I am interested to see what will come of the fMRI, and if it will spawn the development of even more accurate and even more portable lie detection technologies.

Sources: http://scienceline.org/2008/11/03/ask-intagliata-lie-detection-fmri-brain-scan/

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