EEG, coming to a court near you?

A friend sent me a link to this article asking me what I thought about this new technology. I was completely unprepared for what I read in the article. Apparently a scientist in India claims to have developed a technique using EEG (you know, electrodes on your head to crudely record some brain activity) to determine if a suspect committed a crime or not. From the article:

This latest Indian attempt at getting past criminals’ natural defenses begins with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, in which electrodes are placed on the head to measure electrical waves. The suspect sits in silence, eyes shut. An investigator reads aloud details of the crime — as prosecutors see it — and the resulting brain images are processed using software built in Bangalore.

The software tries to detect whether, when the crime’s details are recited, the brain lights up in specific regions — the areas that, according to the technology’s inventors, show measurable changes when experiences are relived, their smells and sounds summoned back to consciousness. The inventors of the technology claim the system can distinguish between peoples’ memories of events they witnessed and between deeds they committed.

The Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature test, or BEOS, was developed by Champadi Raman Mukundan, an Indian neuroscientist who formerly ran the clinical psychology department of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences in Bangalore. His system builds on methods developed at American universities by other scientists, including Emanuel Donchin, Lawrence Farwell and J. Peter Rosenfeld.

Peter Rosenfeld’s not too happy about it (and neither am I):

“Technologies which are neither seriously peer-reviewed nor independently replicated are not, in my opinion, credible,” said Rosenfeld, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Northwestern University and one of the early developers of electroencephalogram-based lie detection. “The fact that an advanced and sophisticated democratic society such as India would actually convict persons based on an unproven technology is even more incredible.”

Remind you of any other discussions around the old intertubes? Scary stuff, but I’d say predictable based on the far-flung conclusions that so many people seem so willing to grasp at using functional brain imaging-type techniques on humans. Perhaps this should be taken as a warning sign that what we say can have consequences that we may never imagine. I’m never in favor of censoring scientific view points, but at some point the community has to understand that splashy headlines and over-reaching pop-science conclusions can have very negative consequences. I would say that this case is a fine example.

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2 responses to “EEG, coming to a court near you?

  1. Once again, people don’t know enough about science and its rigorous methodology, so they accept just about anything with the words “clinically proven” on the box.

  2. do you know the court that is responsible of the system

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