Steve Silberman in Wired:
Functional magnetic resonance imaging – fMRI for short – enables researchers to create maps of the brain’s networks in action as they process thoughts, sensations, memories, and motor commands. Since its debut in experimental medicine 10 years ago, functional imaging has opened a window onto the cognitive operations behind such complex and subtle behavior as feeling transported by a piece of music or recognizing the face of a loved one in a crowd. As it migrates into clinical practice, fMRI is making it possible for neurologists to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other disorders, evaluate drug treatments, and pinpoint tissue housing critical abilities like speech before venturing into a patient’s brain with a scalpel.
Now fMRI is also poised to transform the security industry, the judicial system, and our fundamental notions of privacy. I’m in a lab at Columbia University, where scientists are using the technology to analyze the cognitive differences between truth and lies. By mapping the neural circuits behind deception, researchers are turning fMRI into a new kind of lie detector that’s more probing and accurate than the polygraph, the standard lie-detection tool employed by law enforcement and intelligence agencies for nearly a century.