August 15, 2011

I have hope for the future.

I’m going to have to type the rest of this entry very, very quickly so as to be able to finish it before being taken away by the nice men in white coats with butterfly nets, but it’s true: I have hope for the future.

It’s the future that will be taking place long, long after I’m dead, of course, and it won’t do me much good, but all the same it feels nice.

The reason that I have hope for the future is because of the development of a product called the No-Lie MRI, which takes a snapshot of your brain when you’re talking and reveals whether you’re using 1) the part of your brain that remembers things (or works them out) or 2) the part of your brain that makes things up. Wired has a pretty good explanation of what’s going on.

If I understand correctly, they’ve got it at about 93% accuracy (up from 80% ten years ago), so I figure it’s not unreasonable to assume that at some point in the foreseeable future we’ll have a 100% effective lie detector, though as I say I doubt it’ll be during my lifetime.

Now there are of course a gajillion and two ways in which such a thing could be problematic. It might constitute an invasion of cognitive privacy; it wouldn’t be able to detect things that were false but that the interview subject believed to be true (so perhaps “insincerity detector” would be a better name); it could be adopted prematurely; it could be used inappropriately; involuntary use could be considered a violation of the Fifth Amendment; it could reveal information collateral to what investigators were looking for; and so on and so on. Here is an interesting paper detailing some of the potential pitfalls the idea of MRI lie detection presents.

But assuming that an infallible lie detector existed, there is one voluntary use that I suspect might change the world, immeasurably, for the better.

Because at some point, somebody running for office somewhere is going to volunteer to do an interview or make a position statement or give a speech while hooked up to an MRI and challenge his or her opponent to do the same.

And from that point on, no politician will ever be able to lie again. To be caught in a lie would render somebody unelectable; to refuse to be tested would eventually, after enough people started doing it, render somebody unelectable.

Presidents would no longer be able to say things like, “We found the weapons of mass destruction” or (in the spirit of bipartisanship) “I never had sexual relations with that woman.”

Congressmen and -women would no longer be able to—

You know what, making a long list of the evils committed in our world by sociopathic politicians would really just depress the hell out of me, so I’ll just leave it at “no politician will ever be able to lie again.”

I’ll be long dead, but this idea allows me to live from day to day without despairing for the future of the human race.

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8 Responses to I Have Hope For The

  1. Andrew says:

    There’s actually a whole techno-utopian novel about this – “The Truth Machine” by James Halperin, available as a free download here:

    link to

  2. Joel Derfner says:

    I read that book, some years ago, and enjoyed it. Perhaps it lodged itself just enough in my consciousness to suggest this idea.

  3. Anonymous IV says:

    This idea goes back at least to an old Johnny Carson skit:

    Enjoy 🙂

  4. Given how often all of us lie all the time, from little white lies to big, uh, black(?) ones, that machine is going to explode.

  5. Andrew (another one) says:

    But Joel it;s the very fact political lies would never again be possible that would mean that such a volunteer will never come forward. Or if someone did, then their opponent would find someone whose “research” proved the machine inaccurate, and if not inaccurate then open to interpretation, or if not open to interpretation then not suited for this particle venue, and so on and so forth. We may well need the men in white coats…as you seem not to have fully constructed an argument.

  6. Joel Derfner says:

    Anonymous IV, I guess I’m even less original than I thought.

    Daniel, I think we’ll all have to go around in Kevlar.

    Andrew, I have to believe that somewhere there will be ONE honest man or woman running for office. Even if it’s dogcatcher. And the point isn’t whether the results will be open to attack or not–it’s that anybody who refused to do likewise would be seen as a liar.

  7. woollythinker says:

    Hang on, I just read the other day (in a very science-y article, though alas, I can’t remember where) how our brains actually “remember” things in *exactly the same way* as they make things up – what we think we remember is actually mostly extrapolated from a tiny little hook of actual memory. But it’s basically the same, physiologically, as imagining. Now you’re telling me (or Wired is) that it’s a completely different part of the brain?

    Science is lying to me. But which part? Which part?

    • Joel Derfner says:

      I think the truth is that there’s no such thing as a brain and that we are all in fact creations of Rick Santorum’s imagination.

      There now. Isn’t that reassuring?

      P.S.: Sorry it took me so long to approve your comment. My blog was broken and while people were fixing it I couldn’t figure out how to get in.


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