January 31, 2006

The Truth Machine

A few years ago I read The Truth Machine by James L. Halperin. It was written in 1996, and is a science fiction novel chronicling the development and creator of a 100% accurate truth machine, and the effects of that machine's existence on human civilization. Since it takes place now and in the near future, quite a bit of the book is based on speculation in current events. Unfortunately, while the book is very good and presents an interesting discussion, the inaccuracies in its assumptions provides fuel against its argument.

The fundamental argument presented in this novel is that mankind's destructive capabilities will reach such a point that privacy, secrets, and deceit will cause an end to the human race. It's a relatively old issue, which rose shortly after the nuclear bomb was invented. Advances in technology and destructive power would soon enable a single person to kill hundreds of thousands, and eventually millions. Halperin argues that the best way for stopping this is for deceit to end. If everyone can be seen to tell the truth, cooperation, productivity, and trust between peoples will increase. Bringing about an end to violence and hatred (although this is also in part due to the medical advances in understanding the human psychosis that results from the truth machine research).

Halperin also argues in favor of a world government, as the current state of affairs makes violence and retaliation the only means of justice between nations. At the moment, that situation is in favor of the United States since the U.S. military and intelligence capabilities are unrivaled. However, I believe that is going to quickly change as it becomes easier to produce and hide weapons, and as the U.S. continues to extend its influence onto others who do not wish it.

Some might read this book and view it as a supporting text for the current administration's "war on terror". That giving up some liberties (or all of them), including privacy and secrecy, are the only way to ensure safety. But it is very important to note that Halperin's notion of openness is a two-way street. If someone accesses your records to find something out, you will know at the moment it happens who is looking and at what. Under such a system, abuses would not be possible, assuming that two-way street could never be circumvented. Unfortunately, guaranteeing something like that is not possible at this time, and so this openness cannot yet be achieved, if one is inclined to agree with Halperin.

Posted by josuah at January 31, 2006 11:11 PM UTC+00:00

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