Brain fingerprinting: What you thought, what I meant
The name: "Brain Fingerprinting" is a particularly unfortunate name that
suggests an ability to somehow gather the contents of someone's brain for
identification. It is also painfully close to "brain washing." For this
discussion, I will propose a more accurate, descriptive term: "Threat
Recognition Testing," or when used in criminal investigations, "Evidence
What the test looks for: Threat Recognition Testing seeks to determine whether
the subject being tested recognizes certain items--which may be images of
physical items, pictures, or terminology. If the subject being tested
recognizes enough specific items, he or she can be assumed to have certain
training or experience. In actual testing, the technique was used to find 100
percent of the FBI agents in a test group without falsely selecting civilians
as FBI agents.
How was this done: The subjects were shown words and images that only an FBI
agent would recognize. The non-FBI agents did not recognize these images and
How the test works: Subjects are hooked up to a device that measures brain
activity (the cerebral equivalent of a heart monitor) and shown a series of
images. An image or word the person recognizes presents a distinct brainwave
pattern when compared with an unrecognized image or word. The person cannot
consciously control this response.
The test does not care who you are, where you are from, your gender, religious
beliefs--anything other than whether you recognize a specific word or image.
All of the words and images can be given to the subject in advance without
affecting the test result.
When good people recognize bad things: It is obvious that a bank robber and an
FBI agent who investigates bank robberies would recognize many of the same
things. For that reason, additional images can be presented to subjects in
order to more precisely understand the context in which an object is
recognized. In an interactive testing system, this could be done
automatically, with the test adapting itself to probe more deeply into areas
Does the test "read" someone's mind? The test does not determine what someone
is thinking, or even whether they are lying or not. It does, however,
determine if a person recognizes specific things. The test does not plant any
ideas or images into the subject's mind.
Here's an example of how the test might be used: Take one murder suspect, add
images only the murderer would know--faces of victims, locations, weapons,
etc.--and you should be able to separate the innocent from the potentially
guilty pretty quickly.
In a terrorist-screening scenario, you'd look for recognition of items related
to terrorist training and organizations. Score enough positives and you'd
become very interesting to the authorities.
This is not a technique for discovering things like whether you cheat on your
taxes or spouse (or both). It also won't tell whether you are a Republican,
Democrat, or something else, though it could determine whether you attended
one of the parties' national conventions (by testing you on what you would
have seen there).
The strengths: The test is excellent at clearing the innocent and, properly
given, can determine, if not always guilt, then at least what knowledge a
subject possesses, allowing for further investigation. The testing is
computerized, could require no human intervention, and is not racially,
ethnically, or culturally biased. Testing could take as little as 10 minutes,
but could be expanded to cover more items, thus adding the detail necessary to
separate security risks from non-risks.
The limitations: This technology has been tested and accepted by courts,
though additional testing certainly makes sense. There are also some technical
hurdles which today make the technique more suited for longer testing of
specific individuals (suspects) than quick testing of the general public
This specifically relates to the devices used to record brain activity. With
digital signal processing, it should be possible to improve the
signal-to-noise ratio (which shortens the time needed for testing). Actually
creating the tests is a non-trivial matter, especially when screening for
potential problems rather than investigating an actual crime or incident.
--- --- --- --- ---
Useless hypotheses, etc.:
consciousness, phlogiston, philosophy, vitalism, mind, free will, qualia,
analog computing, cultural relativism, GAC, Cyc, Eliza, cryonics, individual
uniqueness, ego, human values, scientific relinquishment
We move into a better future in proportion as science displaces superstition.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat May 11 2002 - 17:44:12 MDT