Re: Future Technologies of Death

Hal Finney (
Thu, 1 Jan 1998 13:11:46 -0800

Nick Bostrom, <>, writes:
> Suppose such a machine existed for deciding with 100% accuracy
> whether somebody had commited a certain crime. It would then be hard
> to argue that the law enforcing agency did not have the right to
> apply this technique to any subject it wanted to (provided that it
> was quick and had no side effects). For to refuse the law enforcing
> agency the unlimited right to use this technique would be equivalent
> to refusing it to maximise its detection rate of criminals, even when
> no externalities were involved. What legitimate reason could anybody
> have for not wanting the law enforcing agency scan his mind with this
> device in order to find out if he had commited a crime?

Casting this in less threatening terms, suppose you have a choice of two
societies to live in, one where you and everyone else voluntarily agrees
to allow themselves to be scanned whenever a crime has been committed in
order to decide who did it, and one where no such technology is used.
Which would you prefer to live in?

There is no need to argue that someone's refusal to be scanned is
illegitimate. They may have their own personal or religious reasons for
not wanting their mind to be accessed in this way, and they are willing
to tolerate an increased crime rate as the cost for maintaining this
aspect of their privacy. Each person's preferences can be accommodated.

As a practical matter, there would have to be some barriers to moving
between the two societies, so that one could not commit a crime in one
world and move to the other to escape detection. Maybe there would
be a time delay or some considerable amount of red tape involved, or
perhaps emigrants from the scanning world would be required to submit
one last time to the machine to ascertain that they are not fleeing
after commiting a crime.

These worlds could be space stations, virtual realities, or even different
regions of the earth. The requirement is that it should be difficult to
commit a crime in one world from the other one, so that people who agree
to the scanning benefit from the reduced crime rate.