In the last two posts, I’ve suggested that within 10 years, reliable, affordable, unobtrusive lie-detectors will be as much a part of life as smartphones are now. This could take our society in either of two directions: openness as we all learn to stop hiding from each other, or paranoia as we try harder and harder to keep our secrets. As with all the incredible technology coming at us faster than we can imagine, it’s impossible for us, in our relatively primitive world, to predict the social outcome.
Nevertheless, it’s fun to try. This time I’d like to consider the following dystopian question:
Will there be a guild of professional liars?
A certain percentage of today’s population is able to lie so convincingly that they seem absolutely convinced by their own lies. You’ve probably known such people. Even when caught dead to rights, they look you square in the face and tell you it isn’t so. One can imagine that people who can apparently evade their own conscience will be able to fool the external lie detectors of the future.
In a society where nearly all lies can be detected, these people will become quite valuable. Today, politicians and other celebrities hire spokespeople to answer questions a gaffes-free manner. Perhaps the job description of tomorrow’s spokespeople will include flat-out lying. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking: it already does.) Of course, it won’t be stated as such but that will be the increasing reality.
Because spokespeople who can lie will be so very useful, maybe they will be always at the sides of the wealthy employers who can afford them. If this happens, it will be one more way that the wealthy will set themselves apart. Today, we have the “haves” and the “have-nots.” What if tomorrow that division deepens in a new dimension: the “lies” and the “lie-nots”?
One can imagine the frustration of the lower classes. They can’t get away with even the smallest dissimulation. Meanwhile, the wealthy can say whatever they please while peering at the lower classes through lie-detecting microscopes.
Ordinary folk could pass laws against the use of lie detectors, but how can those laws possibly be effective, given the pace of miniaturization of all technology? The advantages of knowing whether the people you are talking with are telling you the truth will be so great, and the risk of being caught with an illicit device so small, that the wealthy will be undeterred.
No, as with all technological progress there’s no use fighting it because it will advance anyway. Better to accept it and put it to good use.
Laws against lie detectors will be futile, and the First Amendment to the United States constitution will keep us from outlawing spokespeople, but there’s always social pressure. With any luck, society will demand that politicians forswear the use of spokespeople, and politicians will accede. If good sense prevails, the general expectation will be that all political speeches and debates are filtered through real-time lie detectors, not spokespeople.
We saw the beginnings of this in the current presidential election cycle. News organizations such as the Washington Post and PolitiFact did offer real-time fact checking during the presidential debates.
Social pressure may also thwart the use of spokespeople in employment and other scenarios.
So, it’s possible that we will avoid the rise of professional liars just because society will demand direct communication and fact-checking.
But do you think that a critical mass of the citizenry will bring about this happy outcome? The seeming apathy about the truth in this year’s presidential elections may take the stuffing out of even the most resolute optimist.
My guess is that society will bifurcate in much the same way as in HG Well’s The Time Machine. There will be a docile, cattle-like majority and a ruthlessly efficient overclass. More on that in the next post.