I’d barely started to grasp the concept of click-jacking. (And surf-jacking , modem-jacking, car-jacking, rate-jacking etc.)

Now, we also have to worry about “brain-jacking”, according to the Times.

It sounds like science fiction, but politicians, lawyers and advertisers are falling over themselves to buy into the latest scientific discovery: brainjacking. Soon our secret desires and not so innocent thoughts could become public knowledge. John Naish investigates an uncomfortable trend (sub-heading to the Times article)

The idea that machines can determine our true thoughts and feelings isn’t just silly (although, on present showing, it certainly seem to be that) but dangerous. It has already been used in several Indian cases that involved serious crimes, despite the opposition of scientists:

Although an Indian government panel of scientists says this technique, Brain Electrical Oscillation Signature profiling (BEOS), should be ignored, its use in India is spreading

I was pretty scathing about lie-detection technology a few weeks ago.

This sparked the researcher Aiden Gregg to put up an elegant defence of his work in the comments here. I was feeling a bit guilty for randomly splattering out knee-jerk scepticism, when his careful research itself couldn’t be held to blame for how it might be misused by people who don’t understand probabilities. But he said this:

However, as an asserted lie detector, the VSA may intimidate benefit claimants into bring more truthful in general. Ironically, this would involve telling a lie to deter lying.

I don’t think that ironically is the right word, here. I think that unethically is more appropriate. (And that’s ignoring the tendency of the innocent to feel guilty in the face of any interrogation and intimidated in the face of prying authority. Although, maybe, deterring as many claimants as possible is the true objective.)

The Indian courts might be able to intimidate the gullible-guilty into thinking that their brains have given them away. This will not work on the less-gullible guilty. The process could even work to give them an unearned apparent veracity.

The process is basically a conjurer’s mind-reading trick, with science-y looking props. If I had access to a million-dollars, so that I could offer a Randi-style million dollar challenge, I’d happily bet myself against a mind-reading machine as being just as likely to tell who was lying. I think I’m quite good at it. I wouldn’t claim more than 85% success rate but nor do the machine-minders.

So, not having a million dollars, I am setting up the “Ned Ludd Memorial Mind-reading Machine-breaking Challenge.” I will give £20 to the first person who can best my truth-detection skills with some new-fangled electrodes-in-skull contraption.

How Not To Spot a Liar

Again, more from the weird web department. This time, stumbling around the net brought me to a web page titled “How to spot a liar.” This is a page which explains how you can use eye movements, verbal constructions and blood flow to spot when people a lying. It is all packaged together well, and is generally an easy to read site.

The problem is, it is nonsense.

The bigger problem is that it is not pure, obvious nonsense, but the insidious nonsense which is latched on to some truth and then muddies the waters. Basically put the site discusses how eye movements can show which parts of the brain are being used, and how these parts of the brain have been (broadly) mapped onto construction or recall. That is about where it ends it’s relationship with reality.

For example, the site claims that when you ask some one a question, and they answer following a rapid eye movement up and to their right (your left), this means they are “constructing” the response and therefore lying. If they look up and left (your right) they are recalling the response and therefore telling the truth. As I said before, this is generally correct, but nearly half the population have this reversed. Makes using this a bit of a problem unless you know what you are looking for as you have an almost even chance of getting it wrong…

Add in to this the hazy use of recall and construct when it comes to answering a question and you can see that the most likely effect of taking this site seriously is to make you never know when some one is lying to you. Part of the art of getting a feel for deceit using clues like this, is learning how the question you ask influences the answer. Without that, even if you know which way the person looks, it wont help.

The examples given on the site are useful in this, and they highlight how the author of this post is turning slightly imperfect knowledge into a bad conclusion. This is the first example the author uses:
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