AI mind reading technology can tell if you’ve knowingly committed a crime
03/22/2017 // Jayson Veley // Views

While polygraph tests tend to be accurate most of the time, what if there was a way to actually crawl inside of the mind, have a look around, and determine guilt that way? Now, thanks to a combination of brain scanning and artificial intelligence, that may just become a reality. (RELATED: Read about just how powerful the use of artificial intelligence can be.)

In a recent study, scientists concluded that this sort of mind reading technology could be used to scan the brains of criminals and determine whether or not they are knowingly committing a crime. This marks the first time that neurobiological readings have been used to determine levels of guilt, but researchers acknowledged that their brain scanning method is not currently admissible in court.

Of course, criminals are unpredictable, and there are dozens of different motivating factors that contribute to their actions. Therefore, scientists warn that brain data alone shouldn’t be used to access the mental state of defendants.

Still, the use of brain scanning and artificial intelligence to determine guilt is another step forward for the practice of neurolaw, which combines neuroscience and the law to assess criminal behavior.

At Virginia Tech, neuroscientists conducted a study in which 40 volunteers got together to simulate a drug smuggling operation. Each volunteer, called “runners” for the sake of the experiment, was given a probability that the suitcases they were asked to bring across the border contained drugs. Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI), researchers scanned the brains of each of the runners and were ultimately able to determine whether the runners knew drugs were in the suitcase, or whether they were simply taking a risk.


Dr. Read Montague, the director of the research institute’s human neuroimaging lab, explained how the mental state of criminals can be the most significant factor in determining the legal consequences. “People can commit exactly the same crime in all of its elements and circumstances and, depending on their mental states, the difference could be one would go to jail for 14 years and the other would get probation.”

He added, “Predicated on which side of the boundary you are on between acting knowingly and recklessly, you can be deprived of your freedom. In principle, we are showing these brain states can be detected when the activity is taking place.”

In other words, Dr. Montague is underscoring the potential that this new brain scanning technology holds, in that it can examine the mental state of criminals and use that to determine the appropriate legal ramifications.

In 2013, researchers found that they could use brain-scanning technology to determine the probability that offenders would repeat crimes. Neuroscientists at the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque examined 96 male prisoners as they were getting ready to be released from prison. The subjects’ brains were scanned while they performed specific tasks on computers that forced them to make impulsive decisions and react as quickly as possible. After following the subjects for four years, researchers found that those who performed poorly in the decision making process were more likely to be arrested again.

This type of technology, especially if used in the court of law, could be a potential breakthrough in the legal system when it comes to determining guilt, and therefore prison sentences. Through brain scans and the use of artificial intelligence, law enforcement and prosecutors will be able to determine whether or not criminals were knowingly committing a crime. As Dr. Montague noted, the mental state of offenders during the time the actual crime is committed could mean the difference between probation and years in prison. Once perfected, this technology could make the legal system more reasonable, more fair, and more just.

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