Neurophilosophy

mind_reader_headset_188px.jpg

In this article from Wired, Sharon Weinberger discusses “mind-reading” technology that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security hopes to use to identify terrorists.

The DHS is interested in Semantic Stimuli Response Measurements Technology (SSRM TEK), which has been developed at the Psychotechnology Research Institute in Moscow.

SSRM Tek is a software package which can, according to those who developed it, measure peoples’ responses to subliminal messages presented to them in a computer game. Terrorists’ responses to scrambled images (of, say Osama bin Laden or the World Trade Center) are apparently different to those of innocent people.

The software, which comes with an apparatus that is mounted on the head, is being marketed as Mindreader 2.0. Earlier this year, the DHS announced that it will contract an American company called SRS Technologies to be the sole provider of Mindreader 2.0, and to conduct the first U.S government-sponsored tests of the product.

In her article, Weinberger discusses the background of the mind-reading technology, including its use by the Soviets during the invasion of Afghanistan, and other “mind-control” techniques developed by the Psychotechnology Research Institute.

Something I found particularly amusing was how the U.S. military came to discover the technology – via former science fiction writers turned Pentagon consultants Chris and Janet Morris, who attended a KGB-sponsored conference in Moscow in 1991, where the late Igor Smirnov, founder of the Psychotechnology Research Institute presented his work on mind control. (Smirnov’s widow, Elena Rusalkina, now heads the institute.)   

Mind-reading remains squarely within the realm of science fiction, and most probably always will. But it is not the first dubious method used by the U.S. government to gather intelligence about its enemies. During the Cold War, for example, the Pentagon employed psychics as “remote viewers” to obtain information about Soviet military targets.

Comments

  1. #1 Dunc
    September 20, 2007

    Gah! Anybody want to take any bets as to how many orders of magnitude there are between this thing’s false positive rate and the actual proportion of terrorists in the population?

  2. #2 Christophe Thill
    September 20, 2007

    “including its use by the Soviets during the invasion of Afghanistan”

    Yes, and we all know how succesful it was!

    Congratulations to the Russian team, for having found people gullible enough to buy their gadget! I think they needed the cash rather badly. Perhaps they will use it to finance some real research?

  3. #3 pough
    September 20, 2007

    I thought it was a different SF author, David Brin, who came up with that. In Sundiver, they test people for naughtiness by following the movements of their eyes when they watch certain things.

    Check out the last few paragraphs here.

  4. #4 Watt de Fawke
    September 20, 2007

    Have you seen the scrambled image? I have no idea what to make of it.

    Where is the peer-reviewed research on this? Oh, right, it’s all done in secrecy.

    This thing is a dowsing rod with a power supply.

  5. #5 Tegumai Bopsulai, FCD
    September 20, 2007

    Terrorists’ responses to scrambled images (of, say Osama bin Laden or the World Trade Center) are apparently different to those of innocent people.

    Makes me curious how they acquired that data. And what would happen if I had a beloved bearded uncle who just happened to look like ObL.

  6. #6 Simon
    September 20, 2007

    This is the tribulation my friends.

  7. #7 Russian Translator
    October 8, 2007

    In general, it’s a scientific research, and it’s a big question how it will work on practice.

  8. #8 Andy
    January 22, 2008

    Tyrell: “Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response? Fluctuation of the pupil. Involuntary dilation of the iris… ”

    Deckard: “We call it Voight-Kampff for short. ”

  9. #9 Ian Kemmish
    January 23, 2008

    The “Psychotechnology Research Institute” link now (January 2008) gets redirected to a Russian ISP’s homepage. I guess that means the Pentagon have now paid whoever it was….

  10. #10 bsnabi
    January 31, 2008

    yes i know regarding subliminal messages ,they are powerful & normally people like games ,they have maximum concentration on the game with out any thought ,but is it possible to have it ,in this manner

  11. #11 Luna_the_cat
    January 31, 2008

    Don’t forget the army’s previous experimentation with goat-killing psychics.

    Personally I would have hoped to have an army that didn’t believe in magic, but there you go, you have to work with the army you’ve got……

  12. #12 rpsms
    January 31, 2008

    Probably as usefull as a polygraph when you already know who you want to arrest.

  13. #13 Grammar RWA
    January 31, 2008

    Gah! Anybody want to take any bets as to how many orders of magnitude there are between this thing’s false positive rate and the actual proportion of terrorists in the population?

    That’s not a bug. It’s a feature.

  14. #14 Azkyroth
    February 1, 2008

    U.S. government adopts Russian “mind-reading” technology for counter-terrorism

    Apparently not satisfied with getting their worldviews from saturday morning cartoons, the Bush administration and the present military command are now combing popular video games for strategic suggestions.

  15. #15 Badger3k
    February 1, 2008

    Don’t worry, I’m sure someone will explain that it works through quantum mechanics, and detects the chakras and auras of the terrorists.

    Sounds like somebody has a brother who sells these things, and decided to help his family by making the DHS pay for their new home.

The site is currently under maintenance and will be back shortly. New comments have been disabled during this time, please check back soon.