Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Lie Detectors

In "The Mistake of the Machine," Father Brown tells Flambeau that he has no confidence in the new invention now referred to as "the lie detector." The priest then proceeds to tell his friend a story that backs up his opinion. It has taken ninety years for the world to catch up with the wisdom of Father Brown on the subject, but in October of 2002, news sources were reporting on the loss of credibility that had finally and officially overtaken the polygraph test and its practitioners. As journalist Steve Chapman reported in a typical news story, "A report issued last week by the National Academy of Sciences recommended that the federal government stop using polygraphs to screen for security risks. Why? Because, in the words of the study, these devices are 'intrinsically susceptible to producing erroneous results.' That's academese for 'I wouldn't trust one as far as I could throw it'." (Washington Times, October 16, 2002).

1 comment:

Dr. Thursday said...

Oh, you might have added the WONDERFUL line from that story, which ought to be required reading for all computer scientists and even anyone who uses computers - especially when they are used via the INTERNET. Here it is:

"No machine can lie," said Father Brown, "nor can it tell the truth."

And I am sure someone will ask why, so I will give the answer. It is stated in Scholastic Philosophy: Quidquid recipitur secundum modum recipientis recipitur. That is, "Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver."

Computers do not have knowledge, and so cannot lie - nor tell the truth.

(There is a famous and silly scene in the old Hepburn/Tracey movie called "Desk Set" which relies on this...)