“The Lie Detector That Scans Your Brain”

Clive Thompson reports on Dr. Lawrence A. Farwell’s brain fingerprinting technique in this New York Times magazine article. Excerpt:

The police have tried for years to get into the heads of criminals. But the accuracy of polygraphs, which measure pulse rates and blood pressure, has frequently been questioned — since steely-nerved liars can quell these physiological cues. Now a new technique called “brain mapping” promises to add a new (if creepy) weapon to crime fighting: a device that can scan the brain of suspects and hunt for incriminating thoughts.

The idea of monitoring brain waves isn’t new. Scientists have long known that certain recognizable waves occur when people are surprised, pleased or frightened. But recently the technique has become much more precise. At Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories, a company in Fairfield, Iowa, the chief scientist, Lawrence Farwell, interrogates suspects by checking their EEG’s for “P300 waves.” These waves are produced when the brain encounters words or images that it recognizes; thus the police, Farwell claims, can present a suspect with information that only a criminal would know and see if the brain recognizes it.

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