Earlier today I was in my auto shop’s waiting area while my car had its annual smog check. I started looking through the pile of magazines and came across the November 2007 issue of Popular Mechanics. To my amazement the cover article was on fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) — Thought Police: How Brain Scans Could Invade Your Private Life.
My previous discussion on Mind Reading Software was mostly concerned with techniques that used EEG signal processing. fMRI technology is summarized by the article:
The underlying technology involved in functional magnetic resonance imaging has been around for decades. What’s new is the growing sophistication in how it is being used. Inside a massive doughnut-shaped magnet, an fMRI scanner generates powerful fields that interact with the protons inside a test subject’s body. The hemoglobin molecules in red blood cells, for instance, exhibit different magnetic properties depending on whether they are carrying a molecule of oxygen. Since regions of the brain use more oxygen when they’re active, an fMRI scanner can pinpoint which areas are busiest at a given moment. These can be correlated with our existing anatomical understanding of the brain’s functions—and, as our knowledge of these functions improves, so does the accuracy of neuroimaging data. With fMRI, then, researchers can see what is going on across the entire brain, almost in real time, without danger or discomfort to the test subject.
As the title indicates, most of the article discusses the on-going debate over the use of fMRI for things like lie-detection. There’s also an overview of some fMRI research activities.
NPR’s Morning Edition also ran a story on this last week: Neuroscientist Uses Brain Scan to See Lies Form.
Just like with EEG-based techniques, fMRI “mind reading” provokes many legal and ethical questions. I think there is legitimate cause for concern when companies (like No Lie MRI) are making claims that could affect people’s lives.
I used quotation marks around mind reading because the current state of these technologies is not anywhere close to being able to know a person’s memories, thoughts, or intentions. I wouldn’t be too worried about having your private life invaded. Not for a long while anyway.
I’m not sure if what they’re doing in the UK is any different, but this technology is certainly pushing the legal system. See Groundbreaking Experiments Could Lead To New Lie Detector.