Sunday, February 05, 2006

Better brains

More from the forthcoming Demos publication on "Better Humans", to be launched this Wednesday in London. Professor Steve Rose is concerned that the US military is driving the development of brain scanning and manipulation technologies that could have profound ethical implications:

These efforts have burgeoned in the aftermath of the so-called 'war on terror'. One US company claims to have developed a technique called 'brain- fingerprinting', which can 'determine the truth regarding a crime, terrorist activities or terrorist training by detecting information stored in the brain'. The stress of lying under interrogation is supposed to result in a specific wave form which electrodes measuring the brain's fluctuating electrical signals can detect. We may be sceptical about the validity of such methods, but they indicate the direction in which research is heading. The company claims its procedures have been accepted in evidence in court in the US…

It is tempting to dismiss all these as technological fantasies and their proponents as sellers of snake oil, but the fact that a technology is faulty doesn't mean it won't be used. One only has to think of the tens of thousands of lobotomies carried out on schizophrenic patients in the past century. Britain is one of the world's leading examples of a surveillance society, observing its citizens through CCTV cameras and controlling their behaviour with Asbos and Ritalin. The potential for surveillance of citizen's thoughts has moved far beyond the visions of 1984.

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