By Luke Timmerman (c) Seattle Times Feb 2, 2004
Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories, a startup with a
controversial, almost science-fictionlike method of measuring brainwaves to
detect lies or hidden thoughts, is moving from Iowa to try to build its
business in Seattle.
The company's chairman and founder, Lawrence
Farwell, said he is moving his six-person company this week so he can
recruit from the area's pool of software developers and scientists.
It is moving into a temporary lab at the Washington
Technology Center and looking for a permanent headquarters. Farwell hopes to
someday expand to 300 employees.
Farwell, 54, a Seattle-born neuroscientist trained
at the University of Illinois, has garnered national media exposure for his
technique from the likes of CNN and the New York Times magazine and was
named one of 100 innovators for the 21st century by Time magazine.
He has tested the "brain fingerprinting" method in
collaboration with the CIA and FBI, and some early results were published in
the Journal of Forensic Sciences two years ago. Next month, he's speaking to
the convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in
The method used a sensor-equipped headband to spot a
brain impulse called P300. If a patient sees a word or image on a computer
screen that's familiar in memory, Farwell said, the impulse will flash. If
the word or image is unfamiliar, the impulse won't flash.
Bruce Lisanti, the company's chief operating
officer, said the technique was tested in 170 people to determine whether
they were FBI agents.
Researchers have been testing P300 impulses in small
studies for years, but Farwell is among the most aggressive in pushing it
for broad commercial use. He hopes the technology will be used to measure
whether people recognize evidence of a crime, whether a person has been
trained as a terrorist, or even whether advertisements were memorable.
"Any expert will tell you the science here is
legitimate," he said. "The question here is how quickly we can apply it, not
whether this works."
Some doubt Farwell's claim of 100 percent accuracy.
Others worry that the test could be misused if it fell into the wrong hands.
Wrye Sententia, co-director of the Center for
Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, said her organization is worried that demand
is so strong for improved screening of terrorists in airports that
brain-scanning technologies could be used against people's will and rushed
into the market before being proven accurate.
"We're all for it if people can use it to clear
their name of a crime, but it should be a voluntary use," Sententia said.
"But what a person knows and thinks is private, and this technology really
pushes the question of whether thoughts are private."
about Brain Fingerprinting