30 January 2006

... and nothing but the...

"Why, thank you, Mr. Stenson." He shook hands with the old master instrument maker. "If you could make me a pocket veridicator, to use on some of these people who claim they saw them, it would be a big help."

"Well, I do make rather small portable veridicators for the constabulary, but I think what you need is an instrument for the detection of psychopaths, and that's slightly beyond science at present..."

-Jack Holloway talking to Mr. Stenson in Little Fuzzy, the first mention of the veridicator, to my knowledge, by the late H. Beam Piper.

Yes, this was science fiction. Until you see this little number (HT: Instapundit).

The veridicator, as seen by Mr. Piper, was a device with electrodes that would measure electrical activity in the brain and display the truthfulness of statements as they were being related. This device was one that would change colors between blue and red to indicate level of truthfulness. If something was told that was completely true, it stayed a cold blue... falseness would go bright red. If one shaded the truth or forgot some small piece that would indicate it was not the ENTIRE truth, a bit of red would swirl into the blue. Long forgotten minor misdeeds would show up, so that overall truthful statements would go blue, but the infraction, remembered by the sub-conscious, would still be indicated. The device itself was simple, non-invasive and reliable except in cases of mental dysfunction.

Mr. Piper looked into a future where physics and psychology would advance, but computer science and other sciences would not. The end result is a universe that had to incorporate the veridicator into criminal trials and other areas of life as a matter of course. People still did lie about things, but in things of consequence society would not tolerate that. Trials would still involve juries and peers to help put a social fabric and understanding into actions. This was not a cut and dried universe, but one that adapted to changes and understood them.

As Jerry Pournelle has indicated: One of the problems with writing science fiction today is that it is overtaken by reality too quickly.

In this day and age of the accelerating rate of change, we can speculate of capabilities expected in 10 years or less via normal engineering work that would seem like science fiction just 20 years ago. When I was reading a story (and I do forget which one it was) about being in a cyberworld with someone and walking down a hallway, looking for a place to be together and talk, it seemed like a natural extension of chat rooms. Little did I think that such things as Massive Multiperson Onlinle Role Playing Games or virtual worlds, would soon come into existence. While still not fully immersive... the proviso that must be offered is "YET". That is appearing, more and more, to be an engineering challenge, not a basic technological challenge.

Similarly work done with the MRI and other scanning functions for brain activity may be the first step towards a useful and portable veridicator system. Save that it would end up being totally non-invasive and work at some slight distance. When we look at science fiction and its related genres, we get a feel for how it would be like to live in a world where such things are possible and even available now.

What is the Tricorder but a palm computer with audio, video, non-perceptual sensors such as IR or weather detectors (humidity, wind), and other capabilities? As a bonus you can make phone calls, store shopping lists, do your taxes, browse the web and play games on it. Ruggedized versions exist for the military, but the basic capability is available at low cost to the citizenry. When made for a television program, the form factor had to be simple, handy, useful and seem like an everyday thing to use. And that is *exactly* what we demand for everyday use from an item: simple, handy, reliable, capable and easy to use.

As for the Veridicator, it is not here.


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