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Brain scans work as lie detectors!

Picture this: Your boss is threatening to fire you because he thinks you stole company property. He doesn?t believe your denials. Your lawyer suggests you deny it one more time ? in a brain scanner that will show you?re telling the truth. Wacky? Science fiction? It might happen this summer.

india Updated: Jan 30, 2006 12:02 IST

Picture this: Your boss is threatening to fire you because he thinks you stole company property. He doesn’t believe your denials. Your lawyer suggests you deny it one more time – in a brain scanner that will show you’re telling the truth. Wacky? Science fiction? It might happen this summer.

Just the other day I lay flat on my back as a scanner probed the tiniest crevices of my brain and a computer screen asked, “Did you take the watch?” The lab I was visiting recently reported catching lies with 90% accuracy.

And an entrepreneur in Massachusetts is hoping to commercialize the system in the coming months.

But this lab isn’t alone. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have also reported impressive accuracy through brain-scanning recently. California entrepreneur Joel T Huizenga plans to use that work to start offering lie-detecting services in Philadelphia this July.

His outfit, No Lie MRI Inc, will serve government agencies and “anybody that wants to demonstrate that they’re telling the truth,” he said. Both labs use brain-scanning technology called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. It’s a standard tool for studying the brain, but research into using it to detect lies is still in early stages.

Nobody really knows yet whether it will prove more accurate than polygraphs, which measure things like blood pressure and breathing rate to look for emotional signals of lying. But advocates for fMRI say it has the potential to be more accurate, because it zeros in on the source of lying, the brain, rather than using indirect measures.

So it may someday provide lawyers with something polygraphs can’t: legal evidence of truth-telling that’s widely admissible in court. Courts generally regard polygraph results as unreliable, and either prohibit such evidence or allow it only if both sides in a case agree to let it in.

Laken said that he is aiming to offer the fMRI service for use in situations like libel, slander and fraud where it’s one person’s word against another, and perhaps in employee screening by government agencies.

SMART BOX
Fact and future

• Truth Machine: Scientists are testing whether brain scans can serve as lie detectors
• The concern: Some ethicists are worried about accuracy, privacy and how juries might react if this technology were used in the courtroom
• The market: Two companies plan to start offering brain scans for lie
detection this year

First Published: Jan 30, 2006 12:02 IST