Patterico's Pontifications

10/28/2008

A Little Non-Election Related Philosophical Distraction

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:32 pm



Man cannot live by politics alone, and Marc “Armed Liberal” Danziger and I were just having a discussion that ranged into the philosophical. I’ll quote him:

Stipulate that there is a small machine that I could put into your home or workplace that with absolute accuracy – I mean 100% accuracy – would send an alarm in the specific case that a person who had the true intent to commit murder. Yes, it’s Minority Report territory. But accept it as true.

Would you – as an American – be comfortable having something like that in your house?

I’m going to elaborate on this. The bottom line: you’re back in your college-level philosophy class.

By which I mean to say:

Yes, I understand that there is no such thing as 100% accuracy in human affairs. Never mind. It’s a hypothetical.

Yes, I understand that there are all sorts of killings, and not everything is “murder.” That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re dealing with the purely hypothetical situation where the alarm goes off only when there is an imminent killing that all rational people agree would be murder if carried out: a cold-blooded, evil, utterly unjustifiable killing. There is no conceivable way that its purpose could be expanded into some unrelated area.

It’s a hypothetical, folks. The alarm goes off only when such a killing is going to occur. There is no room for error.

Would you allow such a device in your home? Would you allow it to be placed in the home of all Americans?

Comments are open. Forget about this McCain and Obama nonsense and lose yourself in a philosophical discussion. Why not?

P.S. This does have something to do with the election — but we’re not going to explain it right now. For now, just stick with the basic philosophical question.

UPDATE: ACT OR INTENT?

Commenter Eric Blair asks whether this is a machine that a) sounds an alarm when it senses people with murderous intent, or b) sounds an alarm when someone is about to commit the act of murder?

I meant b. But I’m not sure what Marc meant. Let’s go with b. The machine doesn’t go off merely when it senses someone with bad intent. It activates only — and infallibly — when the act of murder is going to occur.

UPDATE x2: Mrs. P. says we should arrest anyone who won’t allow such a machine in their home. Good answer!

(She insists that I point out that she’s kidding.)

84 Responses to “A Little Non-Election Related Philosophical Distraction”

  1. Patterico, this is an interesting problem. I teach undergrads, so I associate this type of debate with a half-empty bag of cheetohs, flat beer, or perhaps less-than-legal mood modification of the herbal category. Stir in avoidance of studying for upcoming exams, and I’m in the Undergraduate Philosophical Debate Zone.

    The first issue is one of clarity. As you describe the problem, I’m not sure of the difference between:


    1. the intent to commit murder
    2. the beginnings of the act of murder

    It’s very relevant for many people who are…well…labile in their emotions. Like the folks back in Virginia who maced the McCain campaign workers. They were furious going in…but until they pressed the mace button, they were in non-sociopathic (and non-criminal) territory.

    I normally stay away from the Rosseau-Hobbes essential tension, but I do believe that the act is fundamentally different from the intent. Jimmy Carter may have lusted in his heart, but he never gave a woman a fat lip for telling him “no,” unlike a certain ex-President. The intent versus the act, again.

    Your machine is like the Recording Angel of Victorian lore, that follows someone around and records their sins. To me, the act is more important than the intent.

    Example: my father, God bless him, is pretty much a racist. But he spent decades of his life as a firefighter in Long Beach, literally risking his life, over and over again, for those same minorities. Many people today would dismiss my father’s essential goodness because of what he said and thought, rather than what he did (which does the world need more: sanctimonious people like me who use PC language, or racists like my father?).

    Thus, I would say “no” to your machine, with a tip of my hat to the much-missed spirit of Phillip K. Dick.

    Eric Blair (51924c)

  2. What problem could this machine present, since it is 100% accurate, and nothing can go wrong go wrong go wrong….

    Another Drew (936c6f)

  3. Patterico, it also reminds me of some of the Augustinian arguments about proof versus faith.

    If God was shown, 100%, to be real and potent, what would be the value of faith?

    In a similar way, surely there is the possibility that the person on the edge of committing murder might suddenly find clarity and ethos, and master their impulses.

    With such machines as you describe, I suspect that people could decide that self-control and self-knowledge were unnecessary. The Machine would tell you!

    Is it a Calvinist view, that humanity is doomed to follow its impulses, good and bad…or is there free will.

    Whoops. Out of cheetohs. Also, time for a beer run.

    And…what if all the atoms in my hand (holding up my hand) were actually solar systems? And on the planets of those solar systems, little aliens were holding up their six fingered hands…and….

    It’s turtles all the way down.

    Eric Blair (51924c)

  4. Of course I would allow one.

    But perhaps a newpaper who wanted to protect a murderer who they favor, might not want me to have one.

    There is a better analogy. What would happen of the LA Times recieved a tip that there was another 9/11 about to happen. Only the source knows the scenario and the people invloved. Would they withhold the name of tipster from the FBI in the name of confidentiality and let the event happen? Or would they try to prevent it by sharing the information?

    Answer: It depends on whether there is a Republican or a Democrat in the White House.

    That and withholding the Khalidi tape is why I will delight when they go belly up.

    Corky Boyd (e038ec)

  5. AD, remember Michael Crichton’s silly but entertaining movie, “Westworld”? The robots were all designed to let the people win….

    Eric Blair (51924c)

  6. No.
    .
    It tips reality in a way that would undermine certain aspects of human thought and reaction. It would tend to diminish the instinct for personal self-defense, and for the defense of loved ones. Yes, I know there is a risk I or a loved one will be murdered, but part of building a “self-defense” awareness goes beyond being aware of murder. It extends to awareness of other harms that friends (who cause most murders), acquaintances and strangers might commit.
    .
    There is also a metaphysical, spiritual, religious element in my mind; generally dealing with the need for humans to be able to exercise their free will, in order for their eternal judgement to be just. If machines are forcing me to behave, then I get to relax my self-control.

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  7. Eric Blair,

    You make a very good point, and it may illustrate a disconnect between what Marc meant and what I meant.

    I meant a machine that would stop the *act* before it happens.

    Reading Marc’s post, he may be talking about a machine that nabs people for intent — which is a very different thing.

    Let’s go with my interpretation. The machine will stop a murder. But it’s very intrusive, in the sense that it’s in your home.

    With that understanding, what do you say?

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  8. Let’s go with my interpretation. The machine will stop a murder. But it’s very intrusive, in the sense that it’s in your home
    .
    Two different comments, both in the same general inclination.
    .
    How does the machine stop the murder? Does it relocate the victim to a safe place? put a shield around them? Or does it incapacitate the killer?
    .
    Second comment. I already have a rudimentary version of this machine, the problem is, it’s ability to stop the murder depends on me (and others in my house) and as such, it will stop murder about 87% of the time. The device is a shotgun, and I know how to use it defensively.

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  9. Another comment, off in a different direction. Why the distinction “in your home?” Why not implanted in your body? Next question is on the function of the device, does it prevent you from committing murder, or does it protect you from being murdered? If it protects you from being murdered, does it also prevent suicide? Abortion?

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  10. Eric…
    Yes, I remember West World.
    I actually was running a walk-in nabe theatre when it came out – got to watch it for 14 straight days.
    Kind of provocative at the time.
    Sort of a precursor to the Terminator series actually.

    Another Drew (936c6f)

  11. cboldt,

    I slightly rewrote the update to make it clear that the alarm merely activates. It can’t prevent a murder. It merely sounds off, when a murder is about to happen.

    It’s a cleaner hypo.

    It’s in your home to maximize the sense of intrusion.

    Patterico (cc3b34)

  12. Some people might mock questions like this, but I love ’em.

    Frankly, at first blush at least, it seems to me crazy *not* to buy such a device at Costco if one’s available.

    Or are you talking about mandating the device?

    Not Rhetorical (adab08)

  13. “Would you allow such a device in your home?”

    Sure. Sounds like a good safety device, except it would be kind of noisy when I had my Democrat supporting friends over for dinner.

    Dave Surls (00ec4b)

  14. AD, my favorite bit in “Westworld” was Richard Prentiss as the “new” guy in the robot-Western theme park. His buddy James Brolin was “showing him around.”

    The go to the bar. The bartender says “What’ll it be?” and Prentiss starts in about some kind of martini. Brolin cuts him short and says “We’ll have whiskey.”

    Two shot glasses are sat down in front of them. The both down the shot glasses. Prentiss coughs and gasps, as Brolin downs his own shot.

    “What IS that?” coughs Prentiss.

    Brolin examines the bottle. “Doesn’t say,” he observes as he pours them another.

    Yul Brenner was indeed like The Terminator, wasn’t he?

    Eric Blair (51924c)

  15. Oh, and hey, Patterico, I missed your comment. Sorry.

    I still don’t want it. It still involves the subjugation of free will. I’m happier punishing people for breaking the law than taking away the ability to break the law. I’m probably not putting that well, but that is the gist of my position.

    I mean, how many people are killed by automobiles every year? So I could save all those lives by outlawing them.

    Your machine takes away free will. And free will is the will to do bad things, as well as good deeds.

    Sorry to sound sophomoric.

    Eric Blair (51924c)

  16. I slightly rewrote the update to make it clear that the alarm merely activates. It can’t prevent a murder.
    .
    Heh. Well, that may make my previous answer looks rather stupid, but I’m persistent. Before my final answer (which may now be “yes” instead of “no”), why limited to home?
    .
    I’m inclined to say “yes” to the new hypo, because I am very open to assistance for awareness. E.g., we have dogs and it is difficult to gain entry to our home without making a racket.
    .
    And to continue, since this device will only trigger on definite action, it provides me with certainly as I dispatch the would-be murderer.

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  17. Eric,

    You evidently missed comment 11.

    The machine definitely doesn’t take away free will. It’s not a goodness vs. free will question. It’s a goodness vs. privacy question. At least as I understand it.

    Patterico (f70d6a)

  18. Not Rhetorical,

    You’ve isolated another instance of the post’s lack of precision.

    I mean: would you mandate it, knowing it’s mandated in your home as well?

    Patterico (f70d6a)

  19. Wouldn’t such a device be roughly analogous to a burglar alarm? I mean, for most of us — I think — it’s as likely that we’d be killed by a home intruder as by someone we invited to a dinner party, depending on the company we keep. (I know that generally people are more likely to be killed by people they know, presumably even “friends” or family, than by people they don’t; but doesn’t that statistic take into account the criminal element that accouns for most crimes in the first place?)

    Maybe there’s an error in my logic.

    Not Rhetorical (adab08)

  20. I would get it for my home. I would NOT require its being put anywhere else, and I would not preclude anyone else from getting it. I also would not object to the government’s putting it in public places. Remember, we’re talking about an alarm for a MURDER, not for justifiable homicide. I also do not see this alarm as allowing someone to be punished for an act not committed. I see the alarm as allowing a victim or others an opportunity to prevent a murder.

    Ira (28a423)

  21. Cross-posting, Patterico, sorry.

    Hm. Well, I’d be *happier* to have it in my home than not, so a mandate would be no problem for me. But would I mandate it for other people? I guess I’d want to hear others’ arguments against it, but my first reaction would be yes.

    Where’s the privacy issue for you? Is it the invasion of the home or the invasion of the would-be murderer’s brain?

    Not Rhetorical (adab08)

  22. I’m with the “sounds like a burglar alarm” Heh. Almost typed bugler alarm.
    .
    I don’t care if there are burlar/murderer alarms in every home, but I wouldn’t mandate them.
    .
    I’d put one in my own house if the price was right.

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  23. Actually, I am not being clear, Mr. P.

    I cannot easily accept that the beginning of an act of murder ensures its completion. So the impulse begins, and the machine sounds off. I am certain that some people would stop themselves before completing the act.

    But the machine offends my libertarian impulses (though Libertarians would not have me as a member of their club, I can assure you). I am certain that many good people entertain homicidal impulses from time to time. The question is, do we act upon them? Your machine would just blare out an alert (and presumably bring police) when those impulses occur.

    Sure, it would save lives. That isn’t the point, to me.

    There are many things we do or think, every day, that damage others. Why not, for example, insist that all automobiles be fit with alcohol detectors, creating a sobriety test that everyone must pass before the engine will engage.

    Free will. Privacy of the spirit, if you will.

    But I am probably not being clear. Phillip K. Dick explored these topics MUCH more entertainingly than I have. An interesting question. Still, I am glad we don’t have any of those machine, yet. Though I am sure the “brain scan” people are trying!

    Eric Blair (51924c)

  24. Ira brings up another underlying assumption of mine: We’re not talking (yet) about the punishment for an imminent murderer. So far, working within the limits of the hypo, we’re talking strictly about prevention: The machine alerts you to the presence of an imminent murderer, period.

    Not Rhetorical (adab08)

  25. Eric Blair, isn’t there a big difference between “impulse” and “intent” — and further, between “intent” and “imminence”? Your resistance seems to be based on softening Patterico’s hypo: He’s saying we *know* with perfect *certainty* that a murder *will* happen. (I think that’s what Patterico is saying, anyway.)

    Not Rhetorical (adab08)

  26. To me it’s a no brainer, as currently constituted. Of course, if Patterico keeps changing the parameters, who knows where I’ll end up.
    .
    It alerts reliably, and gives the innocent a chance to decide “self-defense or not?” Since it alerts reliably, most people will assert self-defense to the extent they think is appropriate. Some people will chose to die (e.g., people who intend suicide and have a person come over to kill them – unjustified taking of the life of another).
    .
    No monkeying with free will, and stronger deterrence for murder.

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  27. Patterico, you’re going to go to sleep soon, aren’t you. Damn you. Open an interesting discussion and abandon it! At least Marc had the decency to start it at the *beginning* of a day!

    :o)

    Not Rhetorical (adab08)

  28. By the way, Mr. P. did you ever read “The Demolished Man,” by Alfred Bester? It covers some of this ground.

    Eric Blair (51924c)

  29. He’s saying we *know* with perfect *certainty* that a murder *will* happen.
    .
    That’s what he says, exactly.
    .
    Given that, I feel perfectly justified in using deadly force to prevent the murder. The hypo is “one or the other of you is going to stop moving, I’ll alert you both, and one of you has murderous intent.”
    .
    Without the device, my calculus is a little less certain (but not much), in that the threat I apprehend may not in fact intend to murder me or a loved one. Just so, if he has designs on my wife or daughter, short of murder, I’m still justified using deadly force to stop the threat.

    cboldt (3d73dd)

  30. No, the device would make me paranoid, the idea that it could go off at any given moment and put me in the paralyzing position of trying to save my own or someone else’s life.

    I would secretly hope that the machine would be outlawed or malfunction because the very existence would require one to get the device so as to do the moral thing of saving human life.

    Furthermore, if the device did not indicate the specific murderer then it would be pointless. The people around would all claim innocence and would wait for an intruder while the true murderer could commit the act while they wait. -Apollo punished Cassandra with foresight, so that she would be aware but powerless to stop the fall of troy and later murder of Agamemnon. Such a device would curse those who hear the alarm, since the knowledge is not always enough to stop the act.

    Ignorance is bliss, I don’t want the constant reminder that evil exists so close to home.

    bve (e8f649)

  31. “Knowledge is good.” – Emil Faber

    How can this concept be assailed? Unpossible.

    Seriously…I see this as a question of preventable evil (and the perils to individuals who possess knowledge of such) vs. allowing evil to do what it will in the hopes we will have sufficient warning to thwart much of it.

    Me? I would mandate the machines. I am extremely fearful of being aware of evil and not doing enough to fight it. In fact, without such a machine, I am already guilty of not doing near enough as a force for good. I am daunted, and yes, haunted, by the responsibilities I shirk on a daily, if not hourly, basis in this regard.

    However, murder is sufficiently horrific that I would willingly support the thwarting of death. If I were in the house with other potential “victims” and the alarm sounded, I believe I would rise to whatever level of action I could possibly muster. Would I throw myself in front of a bullet or knife or some such in an effort to save another? I do not know. I do know if I didn’t and another died, I would feel guilt for a very long time.

    So….despite the very real turmoil such knowledge is guaranteed to cause in anyone who would ever have such knowledge or warning, the evil of murder is great enough that I would accept the responsibility.

    Ed (d7cda1)

  32. aa-choo-hitchcock…
    nice try-philly fry guy
    it’s raining-take the 5th..
    but what if willy penn is pissin on me?

    pdbuttons (359493)

  33. How do you know who to stop? Is a specific victim and murderer identified? How do you have time to stop a crime of passion?

    Such a machine puts the responsibility of the murder on all who hear the alarm, not just the murderer. Can a murderer’s defense be “You knew I was going to do it, why didn’t you stop me?”

    The alarm would reek havoc on the human conscience. We are already constantly wondering if we could have done more or should have done something different or why we are alive when so many good people die. Some people might become apathetic to murder, others would be twisted with anguish over it.

    You might be able to stop a murder, but mostly only the murders you should be aware are going to occur (please defend yourself if someone comes at you with a weapon or seriously threatens you). Other murders happen too quickly for any reaction to save the person and will therefore destroy not only the life of the victim but also the life of the person who heard the alarm and was powerless to stop the murder. There might be a few cases where the prevention would be possible, but a simple alarm system would probably be enough for those.

    bve (e8f649)

  34. and Happiness and Good are not necessarily the same thing. knowledge does not always lead to happiness but proper use of it can lead to good.

    bve (e8f649)

  35. “The bottom line: you’re back in your college-level philosophy class.”

    For some reason I keep dozing off.

    Dave Surls (00ec4b)

  36. A machine like this would always be good.

    Unless you’re Claus von Stauffenberg, and today is July 20th.

    Apogee (366e8b)

  37. i’ll put my trust in John Browning, rather than some device that just makes noise.

    redc1c4 (27fd3e)

  38. Am I the only one here who has carbon monoxide alarms in his house?

    nk (5dcbab)

  39. You never know when somebody might need killing. Do you really want them tipped off?

    Pablo (99243e)

  40. Come on, the device is an observer in this scenario, as such it influences outcomes. How can one know with certainty that a murder will occur when it’s present if it’s able to prevent the murder? How could it ever go off?

    Dan S (cc1c77)

  41. “The bottom line: you’re back in your college-level philosophy class.”

    So you’re going to disappear suddenly, with absolute orders that no one contact you at all for any reason, and your “class” will be taken over by someone who’s capacity to bore is almost without finite limit? Neat.

    Sorry… I’m still a bit pissed off about my Philosophy of Religion professor apparently getting fired (at least, his college e-mail appears to be off which I wouldn’t expect for a leave of absence).

    Assuming the machine would go off in enough time for the fecking cops to get there in time to actually STOP the murder, then sure. Otherwise, it is completely pointless…

    Scott Jacobs (a1c284)

  42. “Would you allow such a device in your home? Would you allow it to be placed in the home of all Americans?”

    I probably wouldn’t allow it to be placed in my home. The odds are pretty slim that I will be murdered in my home. I wouldn’t try to stop it from being placed in the homes of Americans who wanted it IF they had a choice. Free will is my reason for both answers.

    Statistics may have changed over the years but most murders were committed by someone the victim knew and in many cases by their spouse.
    Jackie Gleason’s box would never stop buzzing.

    Lots of Westworld references – my first thought was Zager and Evans song “In the year 2525″…

    voiceofreason2 (10af7e)

  43. Scott-
    What if the machine went off in time for the owner to get his own weapon and defend himself?

    As far as the hypothetical goes. I would not be an early adopter of this technology.

    tyree (5c7d89)

  44. Trusting the machines, eh? Westworld was a fun flick at the time. Terminator with the implementation of Skynet was, preceded by one of my favorites, Colossus: The Forbin Project. The book it was based upon was the first of a trilogy, and the movie’s star, Eric Braeden went on to daytime superstardom in The Young and the Restless.

    Bottom line – don’t trust the machines…so, no, not in my house.

    Horatio (55069c)

  45. Wait, is this alarm going to go off only when a murder will be committed in my house, or any time a murder will be committed anywhere (in the city, state, world)?

    I’m going to assume that it’s only “watching” my house. Otherwise, why in God’s name would anyone want one.

    Before I start, I apologize for any repetition of ideas. I’m reading from work, so I don’t have time to read all of every comment.

    The root of the issue to me is that when the alarm goes off, you won’t know whether you are the imminent victim or the perpetrator. However, hypothetically, I would only ever kill someone in my home in defense of my life, at least as I assess it at the time. A murder alarm going off would only reinforce my assessment that I will die unless I kill whoever is threatening me. In fact, it would lead me to not even consider non-lethal means of defense, since someone will be killed.

    After writing all that, I see a new root of the problem, so I will leave the previous paragraph in as background thought. This alarm introduces an almost no-win situation, so thankfully it isn’t possible. Going back to my end-game, if one person is left dead, then whoever kills that person must be the murderer. So, that would leave me the choice of being a murderer or a victim. Between the two, I would choose to be a murderer. To that end, maybe the alarm is really an indicator of bad legislation rather than of murder :)

    Justin (747191)

  46. No, I wouldn’t want such a machine. I already have such a “machine”, a light-sleeping tripwire-sensitive beagle who can hear a candy-wrapper a mile away.

    And he doesn’t give a sh*t about intent (nor do I, for that matter) — you’re on the property, get the h*ll off it.

    That, and he doesn’t record the events for later reveiw by the authorities.

    furious (56af6d)

  47. What if the machine went off in time for the owner to get his own weapon and defend himself?

    They have those already… They are called burglar alarms. :)

    Scott Jacobs (a1c284)

  48. i’ll put my trust in John Browning, rather than some device that just makes noise

    Hey…that’s John MOSES Browning, if you please.

    :)

    .45 ACP – accept no substitutes

    Horatio (55069c)

  49. I’m very glad you clarified that the machine would only go off in the case of an murder beginning to take place rather than just feeling murderous because otherwise its a sexist proposition that would penalize one-half of the population who are often monthly often driven to thoughts of it by nothing rational other than some dirty laundry left on the floor.

    I wouldn’t want the machine in any home. If we’re going Minority Report, there would need to be pre-cogs and that would be so very inhumane. Just ask Agatha.

    Dana (658c17)

  50. Nope, at least for my home. Since, by the terms of your hypothetical, this is a machine that would only sound a local alarm when a murder was about to take place — not when a murder was about to take place unless an immediate response to the alarm was successful — it would be no more useful to me than a machine that sounded an alarm that a murder had just taken place.

    Joel Rosenberg (5ec843)

  51. Can I just put a sign in my front yard saying I have one of these things?

    kaf (16e0b5)

  52. I have such a device. It is made by Smith and Wesson! It is called a “Defensive tool” with the understanding that we have no rights until we become a victim.

    vet66 (1e01a3)

  53. I would not want it, even if it identified the perp.

    Scott – The police rarely have time to prevent a murder.

    JD (5f0e11)

  54. I’d allow the machine, and probably be willing to force others to have the machine, too.

    But that’s because the hypothetical is at the far edge. In reality as I know it, I would never allow such a machine, because the perfection of the machine in seeing actual killings combined with no slippery slope is an absolute impossibility.

    If we accept the premise, though, it’s a good machine. I agree with Mrs. P’s joke: Enforcement of such a law with consequences for those who don’t would be fine with me.

    Even if it just measures murderous intent, I’m not having the machine installed. Intent can be fleeting. Only the death-preventing perfect machine is coming in.

    JRM (355c21)

  55. Two people are sitting in the living room when the “murder alarm” sounds.

    Each of them immediately draws a pistol and shoots the other.

    Did the machine respond to an imminent murder…or did it cause the (double) murder?

    navyvet (4c272e)

  56. Two people are sitting in the living room when the “murder alarm” sounds.

    Each of them immediately draws a pistol and shoots the other.

    Did the machine respond to an imminent murder…or did it cause the (double) murder?

    That’s it, I’m out…

    Scott Jacobs (a1c284)

  57. I saw Marc’s post at WoC, and answered there. That discussion is running differently, so I’ll cross-post my first comment, omitting my follow-on thoughts on the parallels with 100% accurate stop-light cameras.

    – – – – –

    No, I’m against having the machine in my home.

    Two further thoughts.

    (1) A lifesaving technology is developed that is accurate (in this case, 100% true positive, 0% false positive), economical, and practical–yet has major downsides regarding theoretical issues (in this case, that “rights” (i.e. the right to privacy) might be eroded). If it’s not implemented, there will be a series of heartbreaking stories: the tragic case of Jane Doe, the battered wife who begged police for a box that automatically alerted the precinct house–and was refused. Does our society have the structures and the will to deny the box to Ms. Doe and all others who fear murder? If the answer is no (and it is), then we’re already on the slippery slope towards trading in those wispy, unquantifiable notions for concrete, countable advantages.

    (2) Strike the “100% accurate,” and we are farther down this road than many may realize. “Criminality” is hard but not impossible to define, and it is correlated with certain features of the brain that are influenced by genetic variants. For example, certain common alleles (variants) of genes that code for neurotransmitter receptors have recently been shown to have strong association with “high impulsivity,” a trait that itself correlates with “criminality.” There are many other genetic features that have been identified, but not carefully studied. Yet more exist, but are not currently identified. Given the Moore’s-Law-like progress of DNA sequencing technology, this state of affairs is transient. An acceptably accurate cheek-swab test that answers the question, “what’s your risk of being a murderer?” will probably be technologically feasible within the next, say, decade.

    AMac (c822c9)

  58. I can’t see how this is any different than a smoke alarm, only without the annoyance of false positives. It is “100% reliable.”

    Presumably, as the owner of the house, it is my intention that this device be used to protect my family and houseguests. It only sounds when someone acts upon his murderous intent: why would I have a problem with this?

    Now, if I were to plan a murder in my own home protected by such a device, I would “conveniently” let the batteries run down prior to setting my nefarious plan into action!

    Pious Agnostic (291f9a)

  59. Smoke alarms might just beep, or they might be wired to a private alarm company’s dispatch center. The main reason they aren’t directly connected to 911 is that 911 doesn’t want ’em–too expensive, too many false alarms.

    Could the murder-intent-detection box be configured to send its signal to 911? Sure. Would the Jane Does of #57 be permitted to do so? Certainly after the first few heartbreaking news reports of murder-not-forestalled.

    Is there a line that can be drawn between permitting monitoring in special cases and requiring it generally?

    “If you are not doing anything wrong, why not let the police search your house at any time and for no reason at all?”

    AMac (c822c9)

  60. I would allow all kinds of things into my life and my house if I could trust that they would do what I was told they would do, and not do what I was told they would not do, with 100% accuracy. Or even more broadly; if I could trust the good intentions, common sense, and wisdom of the government.

    Since that is not the case, I don’t want any power (State or otherwise) putting something like that in my house, because I cannot trust that power. Why? Because God left the world in the hands of men instead of the Seraphim.

    I don’t trust airbags. Why? Because they are made by men, and therefore are flawed. I don’t trust surveillance cameras. I don’t trust the Government not to use information it has, but has promised not to use in certain ways. Why? Ask the Japanese Americans rounded up (by a Democrat administration, mind) through ‘confidential’ census information.

    It isn’t enough to say ‘it’s a hypothetical situation’. It’s an IMPOSSIBLE situation, because it proposes a) a technology that cannot exist and b) an authority behind that technology that can be wholly trusted.

    C. S. P. Schofield (2f879a)

  61. I’ll go with Pablo (#39) here. It would depend upon if I’m to be the murdered or the murderer.

    I also, more seriously, think having a machine of this type would be problematic. Without such a machine people are forced to make judgements about other people’s intention towards them. The better you are at doing that the less likely it will be that trouble will be able to get to you. Such a machine might keep people from honing their judgement making ability because, “Hey, the machine will do it.” We are prone to rely upon technology for lots of things already, so I’m pretty sure, if given a chance, we’d let machines do our thinking for us as well.

    So, keep that damn thing outta my house.

    Rich Horton (92ab8a)

  62. Joel Rosenberg #50, said:

    Since, by the terms of your hypothetical, this is a machine that would only sound a local alarm when a murder was about to take place — not when a murder was about to take place unless an immediate response to the alarm was successful — it would be no more useful to me than a machine that sounded an alarm that a murder had just taken place.

    We already live inside such a machine. It’s called the State. It does not function perfectly, however. I wonder whether that is a fault or a virtue.

    nk (5dcbab)

  63. I must be reading the hypothetical differently.

    The machine would be going off a lot because so many murders take place all the time. I would put it in my home, but I don’t know if it would really make much difference. At first the alarm would be upsetting, but I suspect that after a while I would become used to the alarm and I would not react at all. I wonder if it’d be like moving near and airport and getting used to the sound of planes or like watching war on television.

    Yes, I think one would become desensitized to murder or all things.

    At first, it would

    TMQ (3d200a)

  64. Pardon me, but what is the purpose of the alarm? Just a notification that a dead body is about to be produced? I see no reason to keep an alarm around – I have a dog. Now if it magically transported the ‘murderer’ to prison…

    Bill Johnson (12b711)

  65. Very Intriguing.

    Sorry but I have a question:

    Hypothetically speaking of course, would it be possible that the murderer also have the “Small Machine”?

    Oiram (983921)

  66. I talk English. Let me try again:

    I must be reading the hypothetical differently.

    The machine would be going off a lot because so many murders take place all the time. I would put it in my home, but I don’t know if it would really make much difference. At first the alarm would be upsetting, but I suspect that after a while I would become used to the alarm and not react at all. I wonder if it’d be like moving near and airport and getting used to the sound of planes or like watching war on television.

    Yes, I think one would become desensitized to murder of all things.

    At first, it would

    TMQ (3d200a)

  67. Okay, why did none of my corrections go through?

    TMQ (3d200a)

  68. There seem to be quite a few commenters who trust the philosophy of Jeff Cooper much more than any computer techie.

    Another Drew (d394a6)

  69. Isn’t this kind of like The Minority Report… the movie Tom Cruise was in that arrested people before they committed murder? It wasn’t a good thing in the movie, although they thought it would be. :)

    yourlilsis (095089)

  70. Okay, missed the reference to the movie in the question. Oops, sorry!

    yourlilsis (095089)

  71. I’d go with #55 on this one, as well as the various free will comments.

    Scanned all the comments, but I think I only saw #64 make a vaguely similar point to mine.

    I hate to be nitpicky, but what does ‘about’ mean in ‘about to commit the Act of murder’? When Bad Guy starts squeezing the trigger, or when Bad Guy squeezes hard enough for the gun to fire?
    Patterico already mentioned we’re talkin about the B definition. Act, not Intent.
    More subtle than the gun scenario, what about a Bad Guy with a knife? It’s still only Intent to murder while he’s slicing you up. It’s the Act of murder when he gives you a lethal injury and you actually die.

    So, sorry. Even option B involves Intent just with that ‘about’ word.

    As far as it was more briefly put.
    1. the intent to commit murder
    2. the beginnings of the act of murder
    Yes I agree with most that an alarm for #1 would be stupid and Orwellian, but do we really need an alarm for #2 other than to notify the coroner? We humans already have an alarm for #2…we tend to notice when someone is actively committing murder on oneself.

    KeaponLaffin (3a2043)

  72. No, thank you, to either version.

    I have vague memories of the story this might have been be based on, but the story I remember isn’t P.K.Dick’s Minority Report. The story I remember was from the sixties, Analog Magazine, and the twist was that the machine could only precog the real personality; the serial killer was a multi-personality and hence invisible.

    htom (412a17)

  73. I say no, for the same reason I would say no to knowing the exact date and/or method of my death, and for the exact same reason I do not believe in technology that would allow us to wipe our memories of the most awful moments of our lives. Humanity is about freedom, free will, uncertainty, hope, and being the sum total of all of our experiences. Total control of ourselves, our environment, our or others’ actions, etc., is not humanity and certainly not freedom. It is tyranny. The very concept of control over the unknowns of life is such a utopian, lefty, “Brave New World” scenario that it should be immediately and totally rejected by all of us who revere the concept of free will and the natural world.

    The fact that we have the intelligence and will to try to control every aspect of our inner and external lives does not mean that we should. The eternal struggle for humanity is channeling our drives to create a better world for ourselves without succumbing to the corrupting urge to limit and subvert freedom. Too many of us are losing this struggle but some of us break free.

    We just got the “Matrix” collection on Blu-Ray and watched the 1st one (about my 10th time watching that fave movie). Every time I watch it it speaks to me more urgently. It is all about free will vs. the prison of utopia. The red pill and the blue pill are very aptly named, if you think about it. Life is this struggle: reality vs. illusion, freedom (humanity) vs. tyranny (machines). I know which side I’m on. It’s applicable to our political struggle right now.

    Peg C. (48175e)

  74. y’know-i really hate hamilton berger/
    but if perry mason brings the bling bling “murder box” out
    i mean-seriously
    i want the state to have a better % than
    “got my ass kicked every day”

    pdbuttons (359493)

  75. I would have no problem allowing such a hypothetical device in my home.

    It’s called accountability.

    Same reason why I don’t object to police radar, assuming it works correctly. If I am guilty, throw the book at me. If I object to criminals being caught then I have no right to object to criminality.

    Amphipolis (fdbc48)

  76. Since as I read this the murderer isn’t identified, the problem with the machine is when two unknown and unknowing individuals walk into that house, and the alarm sounds, then which of the two men, or the others in the room, become the victim, or the murderer….

    reff (556669)

  77. I’d be comfortable with it in my home but it would be put there only over my dead body.

    Dusty (545d04)

  78. Hell no. Who are you to put something in my house? That sounds like some crazy government forced intrusion to me.

    What’s the point of it? I’m against murder, but what will an alarm going off when a murder is about to occur do besides confuse me, drive me nuts, and cause me to start praying a lot, because murders happen a lot?

    You could be trying to remind me of murder, and that murder is bad, and that another person is being murdered. How are you handling multiple murders that happen at once? What if you’re not sure if something is a murder? (A car hits somebody on a sidewalk and kills them. Later it is found out that the dead person was an enemy of the car driver. Do I get a belated alarm? Do I know the alarm is belated?) That alarm will be ringing a lot. Either that will drive me to murder because of the constant alarm, or I will think twice if I am thinking about a murder because I am constantly reminded of it. That can go both ways depending on the psyche of the person.

    BossPlaya (567221)

  79. Is this the vision of things that will be, or the vision of things that might be?
    —Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

    First, some clarification is needed here. Is information regarding the person out to murder another provided?

    Alan Kellogg (e4d258)

  80. First of all, it should be installed in every pawn shop and convenience store.
    Put one on every corner in chicago’s housing projects (that continuous buzz).

    I wondered about being in my living room talking to a state trooper who threatened my father in law, but the device wasn’t available yet.

    Then I wondered about being in a room with a hostile person; ex-felon who I know packs. So I have prepared: Power is on to the device, back up generator on call.
    9MM hand gun in jacket pocket, my hand is on the gun.
    Converation starts and gets heated, alarm goes off and I shoot the guy preemptively… the guy is dead but the alarm keeps buzzing… uh oh. It’s me.
    Say hello to Patterico as he replays the tape for the jury. Say hello to Soledad.

    I’d say no to the machine unless it sounds a different tone that lets my lawyer plead out to some sort of reckless endangerment and I get probation

    SteveG (71dc6f)

  81. I must answer “I don’t know”. Any other answer is a flight of fancy as such a device cannot exist. To assume that one could requires such changes in the logic of the universe that every underlying assumption might become invalid. To change the world so much without assuming the people who inhabit it would be so different as to make their current responses as meaningful as responses to a question such as “what would happen if blue were green?”

    A: I don’t know.

    Ken Hahn (b84a3e)

  82. The more I think about it, the less inclined I would be to let it in my house. It seems to give a certain amount of responsibility away, a responsibility to protect the lives of my family, a responsibility that I have been entrusted with, and one I gladly accept.

    JD (5b4781)

  83. By definition murder involves death so the real question is do I want to prevent the death of another in my house? But that death, not fulfilled, will then alter future events…and there are literally dozens of tv shows/movies about this topic.

    Corollary…your daily newspaper is 100% accurate in printing the news of what will happen during the next (24) hours, do you subscribe? (or lay off half of the newsroom??) Oh right, that was already on TV…

    Smoke alarm example doesn’t work for me…the alarm goes off after the fire has started but if it would go off (10) minutes before a fire, now that’s closer to this hypo…

    Final answer…yes, I would like the machine simply to safeguard my family.

    GoDaddy (6ed79d)

  84. Should we assume that the sounding of the alarm affords the opportunity for intervention in the intended murder–so that the machine didn’t predict a murder that *will* happen, but one that *would* happen in the absence of a successful intervention? If so, then the machine is alerting the hearer to the presence of a *potential* murderer, and would seem to be a pretty useful device. If not, then the alarm sound is just sort of like scary music in a Hitchcock film.

    m (a7a8b3)


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