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Brain Fingerprinting: Bad news for the criminal genius

Updated on July 11, 2015
Petter Sellers and David Niven in The Pink Panther
Petter Sellers and David Niven in The Pink Panther

Strongly influenced by the sophisticated charm and guile of the great David Niven, in his role as a gentleman thief of the world’s most impressive diamond, the Pink Panther, I had often wondered what it would be like to accomplish a similar fete in real life. After growing a moustache, hiring a tuxedo and spending a month in an exclusive chalet in the French Alps, each night drinking Champagne and eating Caviar on a Polar bear skin rug in front of an open fire with two Russian femme fatales, I realised I would enjoy leading the lifestyle of an extremely rich jewel thief. I had to come up with a plan, fast. I spent years planning, scheming, devising and working extremely long hours in a low paid job, in order to pay for that credit card funded holiday in the Alps. After I succeeded, I decided I would I spent years planning, scheming and devising a brilliant plan to steal the most expensive item on the planet. I decided that I would steal.. the Moon.

Everything was measured to perfection. Nothing could go wrong. I would leave a calling card so as the police would know it was my work, but they would never be able to convict me because of lack of evidence.  To get past the obvious problem of people looking at the Moon at the time I steal it, I would simply do it under the cover of night. The real jewel in my criminal crown, the killer safety measure that would ensure my freedom was going to be the growing of my clone. Roy, already a work in progress, will provide me with a solid defence to any witness or camera evidence. Of course, if it can not be proved which one of us did the crime, the judge will have to release us both for it would be a bigger injustice to let an innocent man go to prison than to let a guilty man walk free.The plan was so ingenious only a mind-reader could ever catch me.

Just as I had my stroke of criminal genius, I came across something which shocked me to my core. The invention of ‘Brain Fingerprinting’! I know many petty criminals may initially dismiss the notion by being careful not to touch anything with their brains, so as not to leave brain fingerprints. Equally, they might conclude that wearing a hat, or keeping their skulls on whilst committing a crime would be sufficient. However, criminal geniuses like David Niven and the one I shall become, would explore in greater depth. ‘Brain Fingerprinting’ is mind-reading technology, which already exists! The pioneering technology was invented by my new arch nemesis, Dr Farwell.

In a ‘Brain Fingerprinting’ test, words, pictures or sounds describing salient features of a crime are presented by a computer, along with other, irrelevant information, that would be equally plausible for an innocent person. Items are chosen that would be known only to the perpetrator and to investigators, but not to the public or to an innocent suspect. The subject is told which features he will see but is not told which item is correct. For instance, he is told he will see the murder weapon, but is not told whether it is a Bazuka or a toothpick. When a subject recognizes something as significant in the current context, the brain emits a specific brain response. If the record of the crime is stored in the subject's brain, this response appears when the subject recognizes the correct, relevant items. If not, then the response is absent. A computerized mathematical analysis of the data determines whether or not the subject has knowledge of the salient details of the crime.

Just as a personal computer emits a characteristic sound whenever its central processing unit is transferring information to or from or the hard drive, the human brain emits a characteristic electrical brain wave response, known as a P300 and a MERMER (memory and encoding related multifaceted electroencephalographic response), whenever the subject responds to a known stimulus. The P300 electrical brain wave response, one aspect of the larger MERMER response discovered and patented by Dr. Farwell, is widely known and accepted in the scientific community. There have been hundreds of studies conducted and articles published on it over the past thirty years.

‘Surely...’ I thought to myself, ‘...I would have heard of this before. So what if it exists? It’s probably not reliable evidence, let alone admissible if I ever went on trial’. To my further shock and horror, I was wrong.

In 2001, the Iowa District Court ruled that Brain Fingerprint testing is admissible. Dr. Farwell conducted a Brain Fingerprinting test on Terry Harrington, who was serving a life sentence in Iowa for a murder. The test showed that the record stored in Harrington's brain did not match the crime scene and did match the alibi. Harrington filed a petition for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, including the Brain Fingerprinting test. In 2003, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed his murder conviction and ordered a new trial. The Iowa Supreme Court left undisturbed the law of the case establishing the admissibility of the Brain Fingerprinting evidence.

Considering the prevailing Daubert standard, which sets the criteria for admissibility of scientific evidence, the science utilized in a technology is evaluated based on the following four criteria: Has the science been tested? Has the science been peer reviewed and published? Is the science accurate? Is the science well accepted in the scientific community? The judge ruled that Brain Fingerprinting met all four of the legal requirements for being admitted as valid scientific evidence. The ruling stated: "The test is based on a 'P300 effect.'… "The P300 effect has been studied by psycho-physiologists…The P300 effect has been recognized for nearly twenty years. The P300 effect has been subject to testing and peer review in the scientific community. The consensus in the community of psycho-physiologists is that the P300 effect is valid…." The judge also ruled that "The evidence resulting from Harrington's 'brain fingerprinting' test… is newly discovered" and "material to the issues in the case," and thus meets the standard for being considered in a petition for a new trial. The Brain Fingerprinting test on Harrington showed that the record stored in his brain did not match the crime, and did match his alibi.

"I believe the court’s admission of Brain Fingerprinting test results into evidence is a landmark in forensic science," said arrogant goodie-two-shoes Dr. Farwell. "Innocent persons have a new technology to aid in their exoneration, and law enforcement has a new weapon with which to convict perpetrators. In the future we can use this technology to find out the truth early in a case. This will save innocent suspects from a traumatic investigation and trial, and potentially from false conviction and punishment. By allowing law enforcement to focus on the actual perpetrators, it will also save time and money in law enforcement.” He continued, “Blah. Blah. Blah. I am a tool. Blah. I will foil the cunning plan of a future criminal genius to steal the most valuable item on the planet, the Moon, with this stupid invention.”

Brain Fingerprinting testing was also “instrumental in obtaining a confession and guilty plea” from serial killer James B. Grinder, according to Sheriff Robert Dawson of Macon County, Missouri. In 1999, Dr. Farwell conducted a brain fingerprinting test on Grinder, showing that information stored in his brain matched the details of the murder of Julie Helton. Faced with a certain conviction and almost certain death sentence, Grinder then pled guilty to the rape and murder of Julie Helton in exchange for a life sentence without parole. He is currently serving that sentence and has also confessed to the murders of three other women. JB Grinder, whose 15-year string of serial rapes and murders was cut short after Farwell’s brain fingerprinting test detected the record of the murder of Julie Helton stored in his brain, said he would have strongly preferred that applications of the technique in criminal investigations be delayed indefinitely. What a surprise.

Similarly, brain fingerprinting is not applicable for general screening. For example, in general pre-employment or employee screening wherein any number of undesirable activities or intentions may be relevant. If the investigators have no idea what crime or undesirable act the individual may have committed, there is no way to structure appropriate stimuli to detect the knowledge that would result from committing the crime. Brain fingerprinting can, however, be used for specific screening or focused screening, when investigators have some idea what they are looking for. For example, brain fingerprinting can be used to detect whether a person has knowledge that would identify him as an agent, a terrorist or a member of a criminal organization.

Although not admissible in British courts, the scope and potential of this technology is absolutely mind-boggling. The interesting area in relation to any future introduction of such a test is moral criteria for application. That is, however, if the science ever gains universal legal approval.

Don’t you worry other criminal geniuses out there. I have a plan. Only this morning, I hired an extravagant yacht in the south of France, on which for a couple of weeks at least, I will sample the life of a powerful billionaire to see if I would indeed enjoy being a powerful billionaire. If I do indeed conclude that I could live the life of a powerful billionaire, then soon enough, it will be farewell, for Dr. Farwell.

What did you say old boy?
What did you say old boy?

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