Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hayward's latest post pointed to somebody making fun of skymall, that airplane-seat-back catalog of overpriced useless gadgets. I want one of these:

A cheap portable voice stress analyser. It's sold as a party toy, with 65% accuracy, but that's not bad. Compare it to a jury trial which costs thousands, takes a long time, and has at best 85% accuracy. I've read depositions where I knew the witnesses weren't telling the truth, but I didn't know if they were lying or just mistaken. The value of the device isn't that it knows the truth - it's that when confronted with a machine that says they are lying, a person might change their story. I have tenants who lie habitually and owe me money - this would be a fun prop, and a reasonable investment. I have high sales resistance and never buy from catalogs. But it's on my wishlist.
F.Lee Bailey's use of the polygraph is discussed in "The defense never rests." Bailey got his start as an assistant JAG, defending court martials. While court-martials lack some of the procedural checks and balances of the civilan courts, he thinks they work well because the fact-finders are pretty sharp. He then went to law school and became a defense attorney, and saw how badly jury trials worked, how easily an innocent man could be convicted, or how a person's life could be ruined even if acquitted at trial. He was very interested, writing in 1971, in the polygraph, as a device that offered a different way of getting at the truth. A recent wired article discusses brain scans as new and more accurate, but more expensive, approach. Voice stress analysis is a midrange solution - cheap fast and easy, without the operator bias of a polygraph, not infallible either.

Another thing Bailey sometimes used was hypnosis, in order to get witnesses to recall details they can't otherwise remember. (You don't then use this witness on the stand, since hypnosis can result in false memories.)A recent gift from my sister in law was a book on neurofeedback, devides which allow a person to learn to modify their brainwaves, including the hypnosis-related theta state. These machines are not yet being massproduced and massmarketed,and the research is mostly anecdotal but compelling. I think there's a potential growth industry here of machines that inform us about mental states. Currently neofeedback is used mostly with people with mental problems, while polygraphs are used with spies or criminal suspects. But make the machines cheap and common and trendy as an Ipod, and we'd see some interesting results. If Steve Jobs, Dean Kamen, or F. Lee Bailey are reading this, have your people talk to my people. Ciao.

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