The mind-reading helmet: “Big Brother in your head”
By End the Lie
What most people thought to be the last bastion of privacy in today’s world – the mind – are likely going to be quite disturbed to know that a new company, Veritas scientific claims that they are developing technology which “will invade that.”
Remember, earlier this year I reported on a study showing that computers very well might be able to spot liars better than even the most successful human experts, meaning that we can only expect to see this type of technology used in law enforcement on a more regular basis.
It is important to note that we are not talking about your run of the mill “lie detector,” a polygraph. As many people know, it is very easy for some people to beat these tests as former CIA operative and spy for the Soviet Union Aldrich H. Ames explained in saying, “There’s no special magic [in passing lie detector tests] … confidence is what does it. Confidence and a friendly relationship with the examiner … rapport, where you smile and you make him think that you like him.”
This technology, on the other hand, is what Discovery called “a mind-reading helmet” designed to measure the brain activity of subjects via electroencephalogram (EEG) while flashing potentially familiar images across the visor.
Unsurprisingly, Veritas Scientific has chosen to go after the most lucrative market: the U.S. military. When you’re dealing with the military, you’re dealing with a market with never ending demand and at times a complete disregard for even the most essential of considerations like the functionality of products being purchased.
Eric Elbot, CEO of Veritas, stated that he wants his technology to be used by the U.S. military to “help them pick friend from foe among captured people,” according to IEEE Spectrum.
Elbot also pictures it being used by law enforcement agencies, the justice system in criminal trials and corporate takeovers. He thinks it might even make its way into consumer cell phone applications at some point.
“Certainly it’s a potential tool for evil,” says Elbot. “If only the government has this device, it would be extremely dangerous.”
This is quite true, but unfortunately, since Elbot has confirmed that it will first be going to the U.S. military, it must be noted that they could easily claim exclusive rights to the device.
Indeed, the federal government has the ability to simply seize a patent under eminent domain, meaning that the control would quickly be completely out of Elbot’s hands and thus remove his ability to control his technology which he readily admits is “a potential tool for evil.”
Surely Elbot realizes this and the fact that the U.S. military is obsessed with lie detection technology for a reason, and it’s not to find out who stole the cookie from the cookie jar.
For instance, take the military’s interest in the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology, especially technology which can be used at a distance.
As IEEE Spectrum has noted in the past, in 2006 the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) called for proposals for research to “understand and optimize brain functions during learning.”
Just a year later, DARPA put out requests for a transportable battlefield MRI scanner.
“For the intelligence community, what we’re interested in are going to be devices that you can use remotely,” said Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) research scientist Sujeeta Bhatt. “We can create a fantastic map of deception in fMRI, but what we use for national security has to be something that we can train anyone to use fairly easily, that’s fairly portable, and not outrageously expensive.”
This device Bhatt speaks of is not, however, an fMRI-based device, at least according to what Bhatt believes.
“Functional MRI has serious limitations. Countermeasures haven’t been seriously studied, but of the ones that have, simply moving your tongue can compromise the data,” Bhatt said. “And in the intelligence community, the people that you’re screening have really studied their cover stories. Will that look like truth or a lie? We’re not there yet, and in terms of using [fMRI] as a practical, everyday tool to detect human deception, I don’t think we’re ever going to be there.”
Could the EEG helmet being developed by Veritas be precisely the device Bhatt spoke of? Only time will tell and if it is really as successful as Elbot claims, we likely won’t hear very much about it.
“Once you test brain signals, you’ve moved a little closer to Big Brother in your head,” concludes Paul Sajda, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University.
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