Can functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans and other technology currently being tested on soldiers in the US military be used to screen police recruits for hidden racist attitudes? The answer is a resounding YES! Departments all over the country should be paying attention because this is the future and it’s ready to use right now.
It’s just one bi-product of “The Human Brain Project,” whose goal is to map and recreate the brain using super computers. The purpose is to advance the fields of neuroscience, as well as technology. That, of course, is not the goal of the military and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) who are also involved as investors. DARPA’s interest in brain mapping is to understand unique individual human cognition and behavior. On the surface, DARPA will still be funding some of the positive aspects, but behind the scenes they have very different interests. Of course, they aren’t alone in this pursuit, so is The Royal Society’s “Brainwaves Project” in the UK, among others.
Brain mapping and manipulation are, in fact, here today and here to stay. By creating a map with an ever-increasing resolution, they can hone in on very specific regions. For the military, much of the focus is on predictive behavior and pre-crime. The idea is that they will develop the technology to the point where they can confidently detect and even predict criminal intent. For instance, DHS has been developing FAST (Future Attribute Screening Technology) mobile units to be placed in airports or other locations. These are configured to use specialized sensors and cameras which people would simply pass through like a metal detector.
Another valuable tool for brain mapping and detection is the fMRI machine (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). It works by tracking oxygen rich blood to image neural activity. Increased activity requires increased oxygen. For instance, the brain’s “reward center” becomes active when listening to music. It also makes other active areas visible like those responsible for deception, happiness, depression, excitement, etc. The current trend in mapping involves visualizing what the subject is thinking- like words, letters or even pictures. For some studies these scans are often used in conjunction with FNIR, EEG, CT, IAT or a number of other tests.
Now, we have to applaud the military for this move. I would advocate that all law enforcement be proactive in following their example. There are too many half-hearted efforts to reform law enforcement. So, of course, when the military says they plan on using this technology to screen troops, this is a big deal. There are many studies testing these technologies as predictive tools for crime and the war on terrorism. And if we’ve learned anything from the NSA fiasco, we should embrace it for those working within the justice system to self-regulate.
Right now this technology is quietly exploding across the country. And while I’m fundamentally opposed to “Big Brother”, I am for screening our troops, police, government and municipal employees. It has been well-known for a long time that we have the capability to detect racial bias in the brain with a high level of accuracy using fMRI. In studies carried out by scientists at universities all over the world, a unanimous consensus has been reached. There are, of course, detractors but they cite no opposing studies because the results are always the same.
Why wouldn’t we want to scan our teachers, police, and judges? If simple brain scans can eliminate candidates with racial bias, we could be looking at a bright and beautiful future laden with equality.
The upside is that this will take much of the guesswork out of the hiring process. It will revolutionize a future where we will know if someone is secretly a racist before they are hired for a position of authority. If their goal is to screen all of us for what we may be thinking, then they must be held to a higher standard and should be first in line. This wouldn’t apply to every job, but besides DHS and the military, law enforcement is the most obvious and one of the most critical.
Furthermore, we can carry this forward and extend testing to all employees where the need to minimize racial bias exists. Firemen, public servants, prosecutors, educators and judges come to mind. The mapping doesn’t end there however, because traits, preferences, mental health issues, disorders and areas related to deception are being mapped. FMRI lie detection services are already being offered by several private companies.
The REAL question is; “Why aren’t we already doing it?” My guess is one word – “Politics.” Look at the current state of our politics and how many citizens are openly expressing racism. Too many of these people would be out of jobs. Right now around the country psychological exams are being scheduled by police departments instead. In major cities like Chicago, the focus is on better training, tactics and technology. Yes, of course these are all important, but what good is all of that while overlooking the most important factor in the equation? The human brain is the solution. Why not require relatively inexpensive scans? It’s hard to fool the fMRI because your subconscious brain reacts too quickly.
But why do these split-second negative responses in the brain exist? The amygdala, which is responsible for fear or racism, operates extremely rapidly, long before our conscious thoughts kick in. So our brains have evolved to categorize and simplify complex patterns.
Fortunately, in the vast majority of us the amygdala alone doesn’t control our behavior. We have a large highly-complex frontal cortex, helping to inhibit impulses, make complicated decisions and behave in socially appropriate ways. Also in much of the population the left posterior insula is dominant. It involves internalization – self-awareness and competence.
The FFA (fusiform face area) along with the whole ventral temporal cortex (VT cortex) are involved in facial recognition. Scientists are able to distinguish which race face one is viewing, simply by VT cortex activity.
So what if, in the near future, you are required to take an fMRI for a government or municipal job. As the demographics change, would we want to know if someone wanting to become a teacher or cop harbors racist attitudes? Would we want to know if someone is a dishonest person, before they are put in a position which requires honesty? Let honest people become the book keepers, accountants and judges. Let non-racist people become teachers, police, firemen, clergy and medical personnel. It is a brave new world where we can’t put the science back in the box and you’ve been put on notice: It’s coming fast.
So can people change? According to almost everyone involved in every study, yes. It’s really up to all of you and the coming generations. Knowing we have the tools available, how much longer will society make excuses for not using them – and then ask yourself why?
Brain mapping and bias research links: NYU, Harvard, Princeton, Exeter, Berkeley, Duke, Boston U, MIT, UCLA, Yale, Stanford, Oxford, Dartmouth, University of Chicago, University of Geneva, Tufts and many others.
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