Portable MRI Scans For Psychopathy Like Voight-Kampff

Dr. Kent Diehl has been using portable MRI technology in association with provocative images to scan prison inmates for signs of psychopathy. SF readers may think that Dr. Diehl is on the track of creating something like Philip K. Dick's Voight-Kampff empathy test from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

Writer John Seabrook writes about his experience in being tested for possible psychopathy - a severe emotional detachment, a complete lack of empathy or remorse - in a recent issue of The New Yorker:

One morning while I was in New Mexico, Kent Kiehl arranged for me to have my brain scanned. I reported to the Mind Research Network, and put on a hospital gown. I was going to perform the visual task—rate a series of images as “morally offensive,” on a scale of zero to five.

I climbed onto the gurney, and a technician fitted me with a helmet that had a built-in viewer, and then slowly slid me into the coffin-like scanning tube. I fought a momentary sense of panic. In my right hand I held a push-button device that I would use to rate the offensiveness of the pictures. An iris scan, which was trained on my right eye, would record which part of the picture I was looking at when I made my judgments. The soothing voice of the MRI technician, heard over a speaker in the helmet, guided me. Carla Harenski, who was the lead designer of the task, was overseeing the procedure from the next room.

The fMRI machine started up with a high-pitched whirring sound. I began to see photographs...

This procedure lines up almost exactly with Philip K. Dick's description of the Voight-Kampff empathy test used in his 1968 novel. The main character, Rick Deckard, is tasked with finding a group of Nexus-8 androids; before "retiring" a suspect, he must verify that they are not human by demonstrating their lack of normal empathy.

The small beam of white light shone steadily into the left eye of Rachael Rosen, and against her cheek the wire-mesh disk adhered. She seemed calm.

Seated where he could catch the readings on the two gauges of the Voight-Kampff testing apparatus, Rick Deckard said "I'm going to outline a number of social situations. You are to express your reaction to each as quickly as possible. You will be timed, of course."

"And of course," Rachel said distantly, "my verbal responses won't count. It's solely the eye muscle and capillary reactions that you'll use as indicies...

Rick, selecting question three, said "You are given a calf-skin wallet on your birthday." Both gauges immediately registered past the green and into the red. The needles swung violently and then subsided...

Here's a look at the Voight-Kampff apparatus as it was visualized in Ridley Scott's 1982 movie Blade Runner, which was based on Dick's novel.


(Voight-Kampff machine depicted in Blade Runner movie)

Read Seabrook's very detailed and readable article in The New Yorker; via CTLab via our friends at frolix_8.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/5/2008)

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Index of related articles:

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