Sunday, September 25, 2005

Innovation in Accountability

The lie detector has featured in Hollywood movies as the indispensable tool for establishing whether a person is lying. The traditional polygraph measures cardiovascular & sweat gland activity to identify liars. The device however is not admissible as evidence in US courts.
A recent innovation invites defendants to subject themselves to brain scans on the premise that the level of brain activity in different parts of the brain to determine whether a person is lying or not. The device works on the premise that it takes a person more effort to develop a lie, since the lie is a departure from the facts of reality, and thus require facts to be created.
The problem however is that the results are likely to be subjected to the same flaws. Consider the following:
  1. Brain activity is higher because the events being described were a long time ago, so a higher level of recall is required
  2. Brain activity likely has different levels of efficicency in different people
  3. Brain activity measured by such scans can only measure a miniature portion of actual brain function
  4. A fictitious account of events might be simpler than the reality
  5. The analyst of results can't account for exactly what the defendant is thinking about.

For these reasons, it appears the brain scan will be condemned to the same problems as the polygraph.

Whenever society wants to embrace honesty as an important standard of value, it would be better advised to not restrict it to harming others and court rooms, but recognise it as important principle in every aspect of life. Given the level of hypocrisy, two-faced values in society, and office politics, we have a long way to go before we recognise the primacy of truth or objective reality.

PS: These views represent the opinions of the author.