What If A New Technology Forces Everyone to be Honest?

“Magnetic interference with the brain can make it impossible to lie, and polygraphs and “truth serums” will soon be obsolete, say Estonian researchers.

Inga Karton and Talis Bachmann worked with 16 volunteers who submitted to transcranial magnetic stimulation, which can stimulate some parts of the brain and not others.”

International Business Times, September 9, 2011

2016 presidential candidate Bob Glitch is preaching to the Republican Party faithful: “With God as my witness, we’re going to bring morality and family values back to America and we’re going to turn back the homosexual agenda…” Anonymous member Bob Dobbometer joins the cheering throng, raising his fist in the air and points his magnetic truth ring right at the candidate.  Glitch continues. “I have nothing against homosexuals. Jesus said we should love every… (Glitch pauses, twitches slightly) “Man, that dude in the muscle shirt is freaking’ hot.  I’d like to meet him in a men’s room and…” The mic goes dead.

Of course, the early truth machine will not come in the form of a handy dandy decoder ring and anyway the assumption is that it will be used only on “criminals”… and by criminals we of course mean poor criminals without connections and armies of attorneys. But what might it be like sometime during the coming years of radical technological evolution, if its use becomes generalized and it becomes really hard to tell a lie?

In my last piece for H+, I asked whether enhancement seekers really want to know themselves.  This piece could be seen as asking a similar question: do we really want to know what other people are thinking… about us; about treasured beliefs; about anything?… and do we want them to know what we’re really thinking?

One group that would say yes are the practitioners of radical honesty.” Focused mainly on total truth telling in interpersonal relationships, the advocates promise to “transform your life.”   I wonder.

“How’s my hair?” Jill asks, pointing the truth ring at Jack. “It looks terrible,” Jack replies. Jill is unhappy.  She runs off to the beauty parlor and gets a new look and returns.  “How’s my hair?” she asks, and points the truth ring again.  “I think that’s a trivial dumb question,” Jack replies.  “You should be thinking about the crisis in East Blogostan.” She moves the ring closer. “What do you care about East Blogostan?” she shouts.  “You don’t do a fucking thing about East Blogostan?” Jack twitches slightly.  He sinks deeper into his real thoughts.  “You’re right.  I don’t give a fuck about East Blogostan.  I’m actually unhappy because my dick is only 4”.   He frowns and now he points his ring at Jill.  “So am I!” she screams.

If Jack could have simply said, “Your hair looks beautiful,” Jack and Jill would have each gotten a pleasant little jolt of oxytocin which would have made them both feel good and decreased their stress… and, as you know, stress is a major cause of health problems.  Instead, they bitched at each other for several months until they got a divorce.  Soon thereafter, Jack died of a heart attack and Jill got kicked out of the health club when she tells the owner, a large black man with a gigantic magnetic truth decoder neck chain who had just asked her to dinner: “Black men like you scare me.”

On the other hand, Radical Honesty advocate Brad Blanton has run for Congress in Virginia and that seems like the sort of place where my imagined Magnetic Truth Decoder Ring could be quite useful.  Of course, politicians would resort to headgear   to protect their brains from forced magnetic transparency; or if that proves to be too obvious, they would likely opt for surgically implanted firewalls against forced truth telling .  Early adopters of this surgery would have a huge advantage. They would be able to spew political and personal homilies and everyone would assume it was true.

OK. I’m being playful here, but — as with the other column I referenced earlier in this piece, it poses a serious question.  Is enhancement simply a matter of more?… more years, more muscle, more copies of the self, more brain power — or is it a matter of depth and complexity?  Are we better humans because we have replaceable parts or because we have been transformed in our thoughts and behaviors by technologies that are challenging and perhaps painful to utilize?  I’m not suggesting that the answer is obvious but I do think it’s a worthy area of discourse for H+ers to engage.

R.U. Sirius is currently editor of Acceler8or at http://www.Acceler8or.com

24 Responses

  1. Savinwraith says:

    A few thoughts I had

    It seems to me after first review of this article and the following comments, that the truth is subjective to the perspective of the viewer. Even computers can produce conflicting data due to differences in input.

    This issue is compounded when applied to a complex system such as a person. For example I made a personal decision when I was young not to lie. This was because as a child I lied often was bad at it and always got caught, beside my poor delivery and forethought, I would often fail to remember the details. So instead I learned to omit, or not give details. This form of deception preserves the core truth and allows for the other person to fill in assumed details.

    Example :
    Nik : “ Can you fly a plane?’
    Me: “ Yes I can, I was taught by my uncle.”

    My statement is absolute truth but omits detail and in my mind though I may understand that in the context Nik needs me to pilot a plane but I intentionally interpret it at the questions face value.

    The details of my statement are while my uncle did show me how to fly a plane:
    The plane was a single prop
    I did not take off or land
    I did not spend a significant time doing it
    I have not done it since

    The remainder of my experience was in simulators
    My statement was not a lie, nor does it address the information sought. Often in society we assume and fill in details without confirmation. Therefore it seems to become an exercise in extracting what you want to hear and the truth becomes relative to person.

    Further deception is one of the traits that many things in nature have adopted for survival and advancement , it’s a valuable ability in a skill set when properly employed, however like any tool however it can be misused. It is the misuse that everyone tends to have a problem with.

    Setting Nazi Germany
    You: A member of a local German community that does not support the Nazi movement

    Nazi Soldier: Approaches and asks “Do you know of anyone in this town hiding Jews?”
    You: “No, I do not.” Soldier moves on.

    In this scenario you just lied. I point this out as I have heard many people indicate that they would like to see a world where there was nothing but truth. But there are repercussions that need to be considered. There were Nazis that truly believed that what they were doing was right and true, just as the allied forces felt the same. So where this ties in is that by making a system of guaranteed truth you may lose a vital survival tool.

  2. JerseyJones says:

    Gaia turned out to be a frigging twat selling face lifts that were “carbon neutral” on late night tv. Bono turned out to have a tiny dick. Babs Streisand turned out to have a tiny brain. DDT turned out to have caused the deaths of millions of black and brown people in the Third World, while effete white foo-foos stroked each other’s ego’s and…tiny genitalia. The FDA turned out to have blocked so many advances in science and medicine that the US became third rate in biotech. Bill Maher turned out to have a much smaller dick than Bono’s. Reality turned out to have no interest in the masturbatory fantasies of unicorn-screwing utopians who just adored each other and the futures they jerked over…they were coming…soon. Coming soon!

  3. I join the others in this conversation who point out that, alas, truth is a relative concept. The pathological liar believes what s/he says, even if it is obviously false. The true prophet may have some doubt about the complete accuracy of his/her message.

    Thus the truth-ray would reveal not what is true and false, but which shades of gray are involved in the discourse.


  4. Bevan says:

    Although I have to agree with the anonymous person who says that other areas of technology will probably allow us to ‘block’ the ‘smart dust,’ I really wouldn’t mind if we we all forced to be truthful always.

    Sure, it would be painful at first, but once society had become used to it, I think everyone would be a lot better off.

  5. Eightman says:

    An alternate scenario. Candidate “O” in 2008 asks his adoring worshipers to join him in a chorus of God Bless America. Rush Thruthdetector raises his fist and points his magic thruth ring at the candidate. O’s smile changes to a snarl and the following words burst forth, “NO, NOT GOD BLESS AMERICA BUT GOD DAMM AMERICA …”.

    And O’s “chickens come home to roost!

  6. Something like this would be popular in the perfect Utopian world of Superman not here pal. Facebook would love something like this and hackers too haha.

  7. Alexis says:

    So, while Jack is being honest when he says her hair looks terrible, it is not necessarily “the truth” it is just an opinion.

    Second, it is possible to be honest without using honesty as a weapon. He could have said “I prefer it when your hair looks like it did this other time.” Which unless she has snakes for hair, is probably actually true.

    It sounds like they are in a relationship, so there may be another “truth”, unless they are both just emotional cripples, which the example given suggests they are, the third “truth” might be that they care about each other. Assuming they do, his truth of caring about her, plus his truth of not seeing the value in the question could blend into something like: “Honey, I don’t understand why this is important to you, but I can see that it is, this is the second time you’ve asked, what’s behind the question for you?”

    Regarding his concerns over his penis size, she may also be disappointed in his size, and her response is only seeing two aspects of truth, one that she’s disappointed and two that she’s angry, she’s just been attacked and belittled. However, if she were also able to see that she (I assume) cares for him, then his penis size obviously doesn’t matter enough for her to leave. So, there is more than one truth in there too.

    To tell everyone whatever you might be thinking also assumes that the thoughts you have are true themselves. They’re just thoughts.

  8. atom says:

    although I’m aware that i sometimes come off as an total asshole due to blunt honesty, i still would rather live in a world of truthful discussion than a world where I’m comfortably ignorant about the social situations i live in, or the looming potentials of oblivion.

    stress and anxiety may start out heavy at the start, but a world of only truth will swiftly open discussions about real attempts at progress and understanding, and our government will likely either shrink by half or double in size and take over all the social needs sector like healthcare and welfare.

  9. I have to wonder if you’ve read the several rather long conversations on Singularity Network between Nikki Olsen and I, in which I point out that the inevitable end result of the surveillance arms race will be a complete and total elimination of the ability to keep secrets by any one at any level of society, and thus FORCE the entire human race to become accountable and trustworthy OR ELSE. You add in this technology and you merely speed that up.

    It is inevitable that we will eventually be incapable of avoiding telling the truth, whether a case can be made for “social white lies” or not. And no, most of the human race is NOT ready for it.

    • Nikk Olson says:

      Of course we both read this article Valkyrie – not surprised to find you here in the comments. But quit spelling my name wrong!!! 😉

      People will resist total transparency (nano cameras in their homes), but be happy about milder forms for the utility it carries. It will force people who really want to lie undersground in a way until there is no more underground.

      Valkyrie has helped me through the grieving process of the loss of privacy.

      Everyone will know what everyone is doing, and that will be that. It is the logical conclusion. Blah – this is one of my less favorite aspects of the future. And it’s a radical change. So much of how society functions currently depends on privacy and secrecy.

      • Sorry Nikki.

        I have very low tolerance for dishonesty, because I have had entirely too many people in my life who were. I cannot stand hypocrites, or two faced people, or friends who say one thing to your face and another behind your back. I’d rather get an honest answer about an outfit or my hair than go out looking awful because my partner wanted to “spare my feelings”.

        I am generally honest. I hate being put in a situation where I have to be dishonest about something or have to keep a secret. Maybe I’m an abberation, but I don’t fear a “Truth Machine” even though I know it will radically change human society. Compared to all the other changes coming, a little honesty might help make the world a much better place.

        • Chrontius says:

          That’s great, so long as we can remove prejudice and things of that nature before trying it – consider the potential (Let’s run with Sirius’ example) closeted gay teenager in Alabama who is outed by this technology – he’s in middle school, so his options are basically running away and going feral, and continuing to put up with verbal, emotional, and physical abuse both at home and at school. He is later dragged to death by a group of drunken high school bigots students.

          This already happens, just not as much as it would.

          Next example: Would you disclose to me your social security number, mother’s maiden name, and bank account numbers? Login credentials for any (all?) arbitrary websites?

          We’ll have to rethink some very important concepts before this will even begin to be feasible. Do I expect that it will necessarily be worried about before implementation? Not necessarily. We will have to rethink a great deal (basically all) of our current paradigm of information security before anything like this works, and I’m not hopeful that we as citizens will not end up as collateral damage.

          • Considering the changes coming from increasing medical technology and VR that will make such social stigmatization meaningless (after all, when anyone can change their form gender and species at will, I seriously doubt “gay” and “lesbian” will even still exist as concepts) and the physical and mental enhancements (cybernetics as well as bioenhancement) I think we have much bigger issues to cope with, such as the complete collapse of the current social pecking order and the chaos that is likely to result. I’m far more concerned with wars and terrorism by groups unable to cope with change than I am with individual cases of extremism.

            That’s one of the big problems facing humanity. we’re not looking at individual “massive changes” to a single aspect of society. We’re looking at a holistic “sea change” in nearly every area of human existence.

      • mw says:

        “People will resist total transparency (nano cameras in their homes)”

        I’m not so sure about that.

        There are tons of uses for interal and external self monitoring (healthcare), and monitoring family members. (childcare). & ubiquitous location based intelligence in the home will require some form of sensing technology.

    • Anonymous says:

      No, we’ll have quantum cryptography systems for maintaining anonymity in communications; all the way from governments to private organizations looking to secure intellectual property from public onlookers (i.e. everyone). Valkyrie Ice you often talk of “smart dust” being the end game for privacy, but neglect to address the inevitability that we’ll *also* have technologies to counter this so-called smart dust, and nearly 100% anonymous peer-to-peer MESH and non-MESH based quantum cryptography networks to counter quantum sophisticated ICM (Inner Conduit Mirroring). ICM is a physical piece of mirrored surface hardware into a system that is designed to reproduce the exact orientation of the encryption as a ‘mirrored signal’ on a parallel plane. From the parallel plane the mirrored signal can be captured via a digital recorder (smart dust anyone?) device to be cracked without disrupting the maiden signal; thus no detectable changes are recognized within the system. More can be found at this IEEE article: Das. 2009. http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/it/quantum-cryptography-cracked

      The future isn’t as bleak and lacking privacy as you assert, V.I., and no, in my opinion, privacy as we know it will not completely disappear – this is something I do not concede on. The future will continue to be a battle between privacy advocates and those interested in fighting for total transparency, much like we see today.

      • You obviously HAVEN’T read all of the conversations Nikki and I have had, or you would know I have NO CONFIDENCE in quantum cryptography for “privacy” once quantum processors are commonplace nor do I expect mesh networks to “provide anonymity” because in order to provide fully immersive VR and many other advantages, your “identity” will ALWAYS BE KNOWN.

        It comes down to there being no end point to the surveillance wars other than complete transparency. You talk about current solutions, but those solutions are already being worked on by people interested in defeating them. How many years are you willing to bet it will be before they are overcome? Five? Ten? Sooner or later we will reach a hard wall where no technological defense is possible anymore, and the ONLY solutions will be social in nature.

        Nor do I ever assert that privacy will disappear, merely that it will be something actively granted by the society instead of something that can be granted by technology or being able to hide one’s actions.

        • Anonymous says:

          Yes, OBVIOUSLY I haven’t read ALL of the conversations YOU and NIKKI have had (do you enjoy putting unnecessary capital letters on words – oh you condescending succubus! *giggle*). And it doesn’t matter that you don’t have confidence in quantum cryptography or not, nor was I insinuating you did. The fact is quantum cryptography DOES work, WILL work, and the future will ALWAYS be a privacy and security battle between quantum encryption and quantum cracking technologies and other technologies to enhance and reduce privacy. So no matter which way the pendulum swings “complete transparency” will never ever be achieved fully as you predict. This is an extremist view point that has no basis in objective reality.

          Now, if you wouldn’t mind, Miss. Ice, clarifying why you believe your identity will have to be known by everyone in order to provide “fully immersive VR and many other advantages [what are those advantages you speak of?]”. I am speaking of reality, not virtual reality so I’d appreciate if you’d keep on track instead of delving into and making speculative, generalized statements like this. They make no sense.

          Also what makes you think that technologies – yes current because we’re living in the present not the future (sorry transhumanists I know this is a huge disappointment!) – aren’t also being worked on by people interested in defending privacy and security? You talk as though, *poof* out of thin air individuals, corporations, governments, will suddenly stop caring and magically begin losing the battle on privacy and secrecy. Suddenly there will be this immense rift that brings us into a world where complete transparency is suddenly in our faces and irreversible. This sounds like irrational dreaming, Valkyrie, and more emotional reaction than logical thinking. It sounds like this is a case of you being hurt from a person(s) in the past and now you want so badly a future of no secrecy so no one is lied to, cheated on or hurt through back stabbing ever again. But wanting this future badly doesn’t and won’t make it so does it? I feel your pain, and do hope you can overcome your deep resentments and hurt, but alas I wish you’d wake up and smell the coffee.

          How do you come to such conclusions when the empirical evidence we have shown otherwise? “We will reach a hard wall where no technological defense is possible anymore?” – Why and how will this happen? Look at the present (and the past); we have firewalls, IDS, anti-virus, cryptographic algorithms, honeypots to analyze intrusions and defend against them, and other security mechanisms in place that have not been (as far as we know) cracked/defeated by anyone. We have multi-billion dollar industries built upon successfully defending networks and information. We have individual ‘whitehat’ hackers whose life mission is to defend against the “bad guys” (‘blackhats’). We have Peer-to-Peer services like Bitcoin who’s hash algorithms have not been cracked (and all of the major flaws in its engine and framework have been patched), nearly impossible to trace Internet protocols (if configured right) like I2P/Tor/ and Freenet Project improving privacy and secrecy all the time.

          Now unsubstantiated, straw man arguments on “we/NSA/CIA have quantum cracking technologies now to crack into everything!” aside, privacy AND secrecy will exist and quantum technologies are only one part of it. The pendulum swings and it’ll be technology that grants us privacy and takes it away (i.e. transparency), not society alone that will. Yeah, the attitude of people these days using traceable phones, giving away their location via satellite, spewing their secrets on social networks like Facebook and Google+ and Twitter, governments linking databases together for cross-referencing, GPS tracking being placed on cars, facial and body recognition software being developed and used in practical scenarios by companies and the government, example the DHS, insurance companies and PI’s spying on people. But it won’t last forever. Privacy and secrecy are values everyone cares about…there is a major push against all of it. And nothing, not smart dust or GPS, or spy drones or anything can stop it or people who want it badly enough from achieving it to a degree.

          • I’m going to assume you are involved in the QC field due to the technical details you discuss, so I can understand your vehement defense of it. But history is filled with “unbreakable code” that are now broken, so all I can say is please, prove me wrong. I wish you the best of luck.

            As for examples of VR and other advantages? http://www.acceler8or.com/2011/07/vr-integration-requires-total-transparency/

            • Anonymous says:

              “But history is filled with “unbreakable code” that are now broken, so all I can say is please, prove me wrong. I wish you the best of luck.” – You’re asking the wrong question. The question should be “History is filled with ‘unbreakable code’, but is the security landscape getting better?” History is filled with code being “cracked” and networks being compromised time and time again, but recent history is also filled with organizations and people taking security and privacy seriously; writing smarter and more secure code from the ground up to prevent things like buffer overflow exploits, vulnerabilities to various database injections, Denial of Service attacks, and so on.

              So while security has been broken time and time again, and complexity does add the challenge of securing (and breaking it), we do so big improvements.

              Look, 15 years ago, Microsoft didn’t even care two licks about the security of its customers and were focused primarily on easy to use ‘features’, but after repeatedly being embarrassed by grey hat hackers (i.e. L0pht Heavy Industries, Cult of the Dead Cow) and whitehats alike, they changed their tune and now offer better (not great) products and services. Okay so the bad guys will always itching to expose our information – and trying harder (I wonder why? Because it’s more difficult now!), and glean privacy information, and heaps of dimwits will and are readily give away their data but this certainly doesn’t mean the tide won’t turn where people will wake up and stop doing it. People demand more privacy laws in place for one than they did in previous years, and demand more control over their privacy on social networks as an example. As I said earlier; it’ll be a pendulum that swings back and forth, but I see no evidence to show the equilibrium will massively be broken. Unforeseen revolutions have happened in the past, so an uprising of privacy/security advocates demanding more of it is a possibility worth considering.

              Thank you for the VR article. I’ll read over it and offer my feedback soon.

              • Again, I don’t dispute a thing you’ve said, but history is against you. I wish it were a different case, but so far, no code no matter how complex has proven “unbreakable”.

                I think you are making the same mistake Nikki has time and again, and have mistaken resignation for advocacy. I am resigned to a future without privacy because I can see no means to retain it. That doesn’t mean I am opposed to retaining privacy, just that I don’t see any technological means for retaining it, only social ones, i.e. the active participation of humanity in giving individuals “privacy” via social adaptation, basically me granting you privacy in your personal affairs so that you will grant me mine. This can take the form of legal “privacy rights” which in a omnipresent surveillance environment could be universally enforced, or it could be less formal, a unspoken agreement by all people to grant each other our “personal space”. But I simply have no confidence that a technological method of retaining privacy will succeed for any length of time before being superseded by some other technology. Considering how most of my articles are about how technology is about to fix many of the injustices man has inflicted on man for most of history, I’m sure you can understand why I focus on the positive effects of total surveillance while being resigned to the changes it will force on current human society. All things come with a price, and I personally see the benefits as worth the cost. If I have to give up my privacy to ensure that tyrants can never again use secrecy to oppress humanity, it’s a pretty good trade. You obviously feel differently.

                I’m glad to know you have confidence in a tech fix. And as I said, I wish you the best of luck. I am simply far more pessimistic about the possibilities than you are.

                • Chrontius says:

                  So, how do you propose we avoid a society where aggressive pursuit of the average doesn’t make anyone who holds unconventional beliefs and can’t hide them, say, unemployable?

                  • How do *I* propose?

                    I don’t Chrontius. I really don’t think it’s going to be an issue, because “jobs” are disappearing, the ability to modify nearly every aspect of ourselves that we wish is coming, nearly everything we’ve spent history assuming is “unchangable” is about to change, and that makes worrying about “unconventional beliefs” pretty far down on my list of “things to worry about”. The “pursuit of the average” is about to become MEANINGLESS.

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