Sunday, March 20, 2016

Interrogating Salah Abdeslam

So the Belgians caught Salah Abdeslam, the logistician for the Paris attacks, and he will be extradited to Paris for interrogation. I doubt they'll be gentle, but robust interrogation only takes you so far in a Western European democracy.

Whatever happened to this?

I would have thought intelligence agencies around the world would have been falling over themselves to perfect brain scanning for interrogation. Writing last summer, Eli Wolfe found it very difficult to get anyone to state on the record they were working on this:
"But Conolly, who notes that his lab has designed and built all the MPI scanners in North America, is so adamant that his research (including that funded by the National Institutes of Health via the BRAIN Initiative) not be linked in any way to lie detection that he refused to be interviewed about it."
It seems harder than you might imagine:
"For starters, there’s no consensus in scientific circles about what part of the brain controls deception. The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for regulating higher planning and other executive goals, is one promising candidate. But according to Jack Gallant, a professor of neuroscience at UC Berkeley, the search for this Holy Grail of deception-control in the brain oversimplifies the complexity involved in planning a lie.

“Most things in the brain are distributed over multiple brain areas, and the patterns relating brain activity to any other sort of behavior state tend to be thoroughly complicated,” Gallant said. “I mean, there are different kinds of lies, there are different motives for lying, there are different ways of telling a lie…. Most memories that people have are not accurate—they’re confabulated.”

"Thus it may not come as a surprise that experiments testing fMRI-based lie detection techniques are riddled with confounds. Last year, Anthony Wagner, a professor of neuroscience at Stanford University and a member of the Law and Neuroscience Project, co-authored a meta-analysis on dozens of lab-based studies testing whether or not fMRI could distinguish the lying mental state. The conclusion: Virtually all fMRI-based lie-detection experiments suffer from serious design flaws."
What you'd like is not so much to detect that the subject is lying per se as to read off what they're actually thinking about - directly from the brain scanner. The Economist wrote about this back in 2011 and I embellished it in a piece I did for

Left: what the subject was viewing. Right: computer reconstruction from scanned brain

We must be further along by now, especially as it seems a natural fit to AI deep-learning.

So if you were dispensing funding for military interrogation R&D in this general area, how would you go about it? How would you avoid the liberal scruples (and PR sensitivities) of academic and industry researchers?

I think I might dress it up as prosthetic assistance for injured veterans.

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