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Future Cop – A Review

National Office

Future CopLast Saturday four experts came together at the Science in ACTion Community Day for ‘Future Cop’, a public forum on the future of crime fighting.

Their mission, to discuss how technological advances and changes in social trends will affect our ability to police criminal activity in the years to come.

Future Cop was hosted by Rod Taylor, creator of the ‘Fuzzy Logic Science Show’ on local radio and the Ask Fuzzy column in The Canberra Times.

Panellists included James Robertson (former head of Forensics for the AFP), Bruce McCabe (entrepreneur and author of the futuristic crime thriller Skinjob), Fiona Wilks (a PhD student at the ANU studying the link between brain structure and function) and Associate Professor Jeffrey Looi (a neuroscientist at the ANU whose research looks at the effect of degenerative brain diseases). The photo shows (from left to right) James Robertson, Rod Taylor, Fiona Wilks & Bruce McCabe.

The panellists entertained the large crowd with a myriad of personal jokes and stories.  Audience members also witnessed a fake ‘crime’ and won prizes for recollecting events accurately.

The future of technological advances

Bruce McCabe started the forum with a description of the futuristic hand-held lie detectors used by police in his latest book.

Imagine a small device able to remotely tell whether a person is lying. These types of gadgets are on the wish-list of police forces around the world.

However the science behind them is very complex, and is still in development.

The closest thing in neuroscience currently is Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI), a type of brain scan which records changes in the brain as different parts light up or turn off.

It works by assuming when a person lies their brain must consciously think and process what they are saying. The FMRI can detect these parts of the brain turning on and off, thus suggesting they are lying.

However there are issues. The technique can give false positives (the FMRI says the person is lying but they are telling the truth).  It is also possible to fool a FMRI. Jeffery Looi suggested “what the person interprets as a lie and what they think is the truth can be quite different things to different people”.

Why do people commit crime?

The two neuroscientists (Jeffery Looi & Fiona Wilks) took the audience on an exciting journey as they delved into the psychology behind why people commit crimes.

In order to function and be cohesive, human society has evolved strict norms and values on what is acceptable behaviour. These are hardwired into our brain from birth through socialisation.

This socialisation mainly works through fear. We fear the rest of society will ostracise us if we do something wrong, and we are therefore deterred from committing criminal activity.

However if you don’t learn these social norms as a child, you have nothing stopping you from undertaking criminal activity to get what you want.

Neuroscientists argue career criminals don’t develop as many of these social norm pathways and don’t learn what is considered acceptable behaviour, therefore making them more likely to offend.

Data privacy vs. fighting crime

The panellists also debated whether police should be able to breach our privacy and access personal data in order to solve crimes.

They were concerned about how police forces are under increasing pressure to protect society from terrorism. Police are now expected to prevent criminal activity (instead of just solving it). However to achieve this they need to invade our privacy to collect data on the very small percentage of society who break the rules.

Guest blog post by Caroline Faulder