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Old 05-01-2020, 12:29 PM
Jonathan Chance is offline
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Science Fiction Debate: The impact of Beam Piper's 'Veridicators' on Society


OK, I'm stealing this one directly from the 'Little Fuzzy' books. If you like space opera and haven't read them, you really should. They're great.

OK, so. Someone has invented actual, no-shit lie detectors. You sit in a chair and a big light above you indicates whether you believe what you are saying is the truth or not. The light turns blue, you're telling the truth. Red, you're lying.

NOTE: One seam in the rules of veridicators that Piper mentions is that actual psychotics can give false positives. The example mentioned is the guy who claimed to be God didn't set it off.

So in what way would our world be changed? Say, for purposes of our scenario, you're a legislator of a mid-sized state wherein this invention is developed - some crazed scientist named Brown with flyaway hair and an unnaturally strong connection to a teen boy.

Do you promote it as useful in the courts? Should politicians use them in debates or at speeches? Should they be available privately? Or for corporate use?

You have to propose the series of laws dealing with the new invention. What on earth do you do?
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Old 05-01-2020, 12:41 PM
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My first thought -- legally it can be used for criminal investigations and trials, and law enforcement/intelligence agencies can use it for screening recruits (and internal investigations). But that's it. I think it would be best if private employers were not allowed to use it for screening hires or resolving internal investigations, barring evidence of criminal behavior. Perhaps for civil trials, it can be used on a voluntary basis.

Privately, though, it would be extremely useful for politics -- candidates can voluntarily subject themselves to it publicly (for reasonable questions about policy and to resolve potential scandals), and candidates who refuse to do it would (hopefully) be shunned by the voters. Perhaps couples with trust issues could voluntarily use it for resolving those trust issues.

Last edited by iiandyiiii; 05-01-2020 at 12:42 PM.
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Old 05-01-2020, 01:18 PM
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Unfortunately lie detectors cannot detect false beliefs. Witnesses are notoriously unreliable, even when they think they are not lying.

For instance a witness to a UFO event might truly believe that they saw an alien spacecraft, when in fact it has some other cause. If you believe the lie detector then you would be tempted to accept that as proof of alien spacecraft, when it is nothing of the kind.
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Old 05-01-2020, 01:24 PM
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It would basically be a more effective version of a polygraph today.

I'd love to see it used during presidential debates, but, unfortunately, as the others have noted above, it is perfectly possible to genuinely believe something that isn't true, which wouldn't set such a device off.
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Old 05-01-2020, 01:36 PM
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Note that polygraphs are not accepted as evidence in the UK, for very good reasons. So it would have to be radically different from a polygraph if it were to be accepted as reliable here.
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Old 05-01-2020, 01:42 PM
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If veridicators were used in criminal trials, lawyers would definitely have to learn how to cope with the issue of "this witness isn't lying, but he is mistaken".

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it's true that this witness clearly believes he saw my client committing the crime, but as my client will now demonstrate by taking the stand in his own defense, this honest but mistaken citizen has clearly confused my client with someone else. After all, it was scientifically demonstrated as long ago as the 20th century Old Style that eyewitnesses can be very unreliable."

And for that matter, what would a real "lie detector" do to the right to remain silent? If veridicators are available, does that mean that the court/the jury/The System would be entitled to draw the obvious conclusion when the accused declines to simply take the stand, put the helmet on, and say "I did NOT kill Mr. Boddy, nor did I hire someone else to kill Mr. Boddy, or otherwise cause his death to happen" and have the light stay blue? (And if the suspect had done that at the police station after the body of Mr. Boddy was discovered, presumably he wouldn't even be on trial right now.)
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Old 05-01-2020, 01:52 PM
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Yeah, I think that little caveat "the light stays blue if the subject truly believes he is truthful" really throws a wrench in things. It would be simply if it were an absolute-truth machine.

Then criminal trials would be over in 10 seconds. If it even got to that. The police station could administer it first to a suspect and get it all sorted out on the spot. Such devices could be carried around in cop cars.
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Old 05-01-2020, 01:53 PM
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Originally Posted by eburacum45 View Post
Note that polygraphs are not accepted as evidence in the UK, for very good reasons. So it would have to be radically different from a polygraph if it were to be accepted as reliable here.
That's the point. Polygraphs are easily fooled and give both false negatives and positives. This is a science fiction device that is infallible. While a person might believe something that is in fact false, it will detect anyone who is deliberately lying.

Personally, I think it would be useful in certain instances, but it could be abused. I agree that employers and other private entities shouldn't use it, and that it should be used only under narrow legal guidelines. There's a lot of stuff I--and I'm guessing you--wouldn't want people to know about. However I think it would be useful for people who might voluntarily want to clear their name about something.
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Old 05-01-2020, 02:03 PM
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It would basically be a more effective version of a polygraph today.

I'd love to see it used during presidential debates, but, unfortunately, as the others have noted above, it is perfectly possible to genuinely believe something that isn't true, which wouldn't set such a device off.
It is already possible with today's technology to tell when a politician is lying.
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Old 05-01-2020, 02:25 PM
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Personally, I think it would be useful in certain instances, but it could be abused. I agree that employers and other private entities shouldn't use it, and that it should be used only under narrow legal guidelines. There's a lot of stuff I--and I'm guessing you--wouldn't want people to know about. However I think it would be useful for people who might voluntarily want to clear their name about something.
It occurres to me that a useful function for lawyers would be in sitting down with the cops and the suspect / their client to agree in advance what sort of questions will be asked and what sorts of limits there will be on those questions, and maybe sit in on the veridication session ready to yell "Stop!" if the cops/D.A. seem to be poking their nose into stuff that's not really their business.

"Do you kill Mr. Boddy?" "No, I did not."
"Did you hire someone else to kill him?" "No."
"Did you otherwise induce or persuade someone else to kill him?" "No."
"Do you know who killed him? I don't mean suspect, or guess, but know." "No, sir, I--I don't know who killed him, no."

But the well-meaning citizen who thinks "Gee, I don't need a lawyer! I didn't do it! I'll just go and get veridicated and clear my name!" could get seriously messed with, even if the cops might struggle to pin that particular crime on him:

"And where were you on the night of April 30, 2120?" (Lawyer: "Objection! My client has already demonstrated his innocence! This fishing expedition into his private affairs is completely uncalled for!")
"And you've never broken the law, right?" (Lawyer: "Objection objection objection! Don't answer that! You don't have to answer that! OBJECTION!!!")
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Old 05-01-2020, 03:48 PM
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Originally Posted by MEBuckner View Post
If veridicators were used in criminal trials, lawyers would definitely have to learn how to cope with the issue of "this witness isn't lying, but he is mistaken".

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it's true that this witness clearly believes he saw my client committing the crime, but as my client will now demonstrate by taking the stand in his own defense, this honest but mistaken citizen has clearly confused my client with someone else. After all, it was scientifically demonstrated as long ago as the 20th century Old Style that eyewitnesses can be very unreliable."

This was actually a major plot point in the Fuzzy stories. The Veridicators were designed for humans, but they needed to prove that they would also work on the Fuzzies, an alien species. This was complicated by the fact that as far as the psychologist in charge of the project knew, no Fuzzy had ever told an actual lie. There's an amusing scene where he tries to teach a Fuzzy to lie, and just gets them confused.


Quote:
And for that matter, what would a real "lie detector" do to the right to remain silent? If veridicators are available, does that mean that the court/the jury/The System would be entitled to draw the obvious conclusion when the accused declines to simply take the stand, put the helmet on, and say "I did NOT kill Mr. Boddy, nor did I hire someone else to kill Mr. Boddy, or otherwise cause his death to happen" and have the light stay blue? (And if the suspect had done that at the police station after the body of Mr. Boddy was discovered, presumably he wouldn't even be on trial right now.)

That was another plot point. At one point, one of the legal team explicitly mentions that the society in question doesn't have a rule against self-incrimination. He (or someone else, I don't exactly recall) also expresses a great desire to finally get another character on the stand, so he could grill him under the veridicator. They never really get into the police state implications of this in the stories, but it's clear that Piper at least knew about them.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
It would basically be a more effective version of a polygraph today.

I'd love to see it used during presidential debates, but, unfortunately, as the others have noted above, it is perfectly possible to genuinely believe something that isn't true, which wouldn't set such a device off.

But at least we'd get rid of the people who know that they're lying. We'd end up choosing between Paragons of Virtue and Psychotics. I'd say it's obvious which one we'd choose, but then, I look at the world today.....
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Old 05-01-2020, 03:55 PM
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It is already possible with today's technology to tell when a politician is lying.
Their lips are moving?
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Old 05-01-2020, 04:01 PM
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That was another plot point. At one point, one of the legal team explicitly mentions that the society in question doesn't have a rule against self-incrimination. He (or someone else, I don't exactly recall) also expresses a great desire to finally get another character on the stand, so he could grill him under the veridicator. They never really get into the police state implications of this in the stories, but it's clear that Piper at least knew about them.
In another of Piper's novels, Space Viking, which is set in the same universe as the "Fuzzy" novels but many centuries later, we do get this bit of background dialogue:
Quote:
...A couple of Morland's men were hustling a People's Watchman to one and strapping him into a chair.

"You know what this is, don't you?" one of them was saying. "This is a veridicator. That globe'll light blue; the moment you try to lie to us, it'll turn red. And the moment it turns red, I'm going to hammer your teeth down your throat with the butt of this pistol."
The person who is being threatened is a "bad guy", and the person doing the threatening is (more or less) a "good guy"--albeit a "Space Viking"--but some of the less pleasant potential applications of veridicator technology are pretty clear.
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Old 05-01-2020, 04:31 PM
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Some other potential cans of worms: I think barring true psychosis*, some questions would be pretty straightforward: "Did you kill him?" "Did you rob the First Planetary Bank of Mallorysport?" and so forth.

*And if the defendant was in fact observed to commit the crime, and was then immediately apprehended, but as soon as he's taken to the police station he's all "Wh-where am I? What happened? Oh, God! Why is there blood on my hands?!?", it would be morally and legally useful to be able to actually verify that he isn't just faking it, he really DID have a psychotic break / has "multiple personalities" / had been mind-controlled by an evil telepath.

But if we get in to questions not just of objective actions, but of motives and state of mind, I suspect things could get a lot murkier. I wouldn't be all that surprised if someone might be able to "blue light" the machine when claiming "He was coming right for me! I was in fear for my life! It was self-defense! I had no choice!" even if a videotape might show something quite different, or at least pretty ambiguous. Especially if the veridicated testimony is made some time after the events, allowing the accused plenty of time to repeatedly go over everything in his own mind and mentally work his way around to a version of events that puts him in the best possible light.

Even worse, I can imagine this process might work against basically decent people, and in favor of narcissistic jerks. Suppose Conscientious Charlie and Trigger-Happy Ted are both accused of murder or manslaughter, but in both cases it might have been self-defense.

Conscientious Charlie:
"Did you kill him?" "Yes, I did."
"But it was self-defense, right?" "It--I--yes, it was self-defense." (Oh, god, I killed that man! Was that really the only thing I could have done under those circumstances?)
"But you had no choice, right? You had to kill him to defend yourself against an attack you feared might result in your own death or grievous bodily harm, right?" "I--Yes! No! I don't know!"

But the videotape (if there is one) shows poor Charlie acted totally reasonably.

Meanwhile, Trigger-Happy Ted (the narcissistic jerk):
"Did you kill him?" "Yes, I did."
"But it was self-defense, right? You had no choice, right? You had to kill him to defend yourself against an attack you feared might result in your own death or grievous bodily harm?" "You got it, Jack."

But the videotape shows the circumstances were much more murky than that, or even that Ted really wasn't at all justified.


I can also imagine a case where Bob says "Sure, we had sex--it was totally consensual!" and Alice says "I didn't consent! He forced himself on me!", and then where are you? And again, poor Conscientious Charlie thought it was a consensual and mutually pleasurable encounter, but when he hears Alice is accusing him of rape, he starts second-guessing himself, and soon he's red-lighting all over the place (or blue-lighting to "I...Oh, God!...I must have raped her! I'm so sorry!") even though a videotape might show Alice practically dragging Charlie into the bedroom and (with his full consent at the moment) having her way with him. Again, a narcissist or sociopath might be at an advantage in that sort of situation against a basically decent person.
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Old 05-01-2020, 04:57 PM
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Originally Posted by eburacum45 View Post
Unfortunately lie detectors cannot detect false beliefs. Witnesses are notoriously unreliable, even when they think they are not lying.

For instance a witness to a UFO event might truly believe that they saw an alien spacecraft, when in fact it has some other cause. If you believe the lie detector then you would be tempted to accept that as proof of alien spacecraft, when it is nothing of the kind.
Agreed. I have mentioned it here previously that I have seen an UFO ...I am 99.9 repeating certain it was a meteorite, but since I never attempted to find out it really was an UFO. I never claim it is an alien space craft =)

Waaaaaaay back in college I picked up a Christmas gig in the warehouse of a Catalog Showroom, and they had someone steal some stuff so they lie detectored all of us back in the warehouse. One of the routine questions was the ubiquitous 'Have you ever used marijuana or other drugs' to which I replied yes. They were rather grumpy that they couldn't fire me for lying, and they couldn't nail me for anything because they were investigating thefts =)

Besides, it wouldn't work on me now - a friend who did SERE training for the seal teams taught me a couple ways to screw with lie detectors and in combination with my blood pressure meds, nada =)
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Old 05-01-2020, 05:07 PM
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There's a novel that explores these issues in some detail: The Truth Machine by James Halperin.
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