The electroencephalograph, or EEG, has been the boon and the bane
of neuroscientists and bioengineers for decades. Scientists have
scoured strip chart recordings for any clue of neurophysiological
function. Engineers have studied the inverse problem
of localizing within the skull the source of electrical potentials
measured at the scalp. Clinicians have compared patients EEG
data with healthy subjects in an effort to uncover whats wrong
with an individual. All three groups have had some taste of success
and more than their fair share of frustration.
The advent of digital processing tools and signal analyzers has
helped make enormous progress in key tasks such as artifact removal,
data reduction and compression, and event detection and classification.
Sophisticated mathematical modeling is helping to decipher EEG rhythm
generators not discernible by visible inspection.
An intriguing form of symbiosis is at play here: As engineers and
mathematicians further enhance the processing of EEG signals, they
offer scientists a clearer picture of brain function. Conversely,
as neuroscientists learn more about the function of different brain
regions, they offer engineers more data useful for signal analysis.
As both these trends converge, the potential for developing truly
useful neurodiagnostic tools for detecting neurological and psychological
disorders such as autism, Alzheimers disease, and sleep apnea
is tantalizingly close. But more than technology development is
As David Griffith reports in his article on quantitative EEG firms,
vendors of neurodiagnostic systems should be careful about making
overreaching claims about their system until a sufficient amount
of peer-reviewed and replicated scientific testing exists. (That
said, we find it hard to imagine that venture capital firms who
blithely swallowed the ludicrous claims of the dot-com industry
a few years back should be so concerned about the mere pittance
squandered on neurometrics ventures).
If these were normal times, we might be inclined to include Larry
Farwell and his Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories in this group.
But these are not normal times and it does not seem unreasonable
for counter-terrorist agencies to wonder if this technologyhowever
immature and unprovenmight yield some clues as to the identity
or intent of terrorists in our midst.
In time of declared war on a declared enemy, different standards
of incarceration apply and however distasteful the notion of brain
monitoring, it is far preferable to the means of interrogation used
by some other countries.
But even if it were a mature and proven technology, we believe that
brain fingerprinting should never be contemplated as a criminal
justice tool unless the suspect requests its use. We feel the same
way about involuntary, or semi-voluntary polygraph testing, or drug
testing, for that matter. There are many other tools and techniques
for ensuring safety that do not penetrate the veil of cognition
that may not have been apparent to the gentlemen who authored the
fourth amendment, but who most certainly would have found such intimate
search patently unreasonable.
For all its shortcomings, the EEGand its cousin, the magnetoencephalographoffer
science and industry a unique and powerful tool that will only become
more useful, if we use it wisely.
Editor and Publisher