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The Narrow-Banded Brain


By Allan Holmes August 31, 2010

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Stephen Baker, author of the Numerati, wrote in his blog on Tuesday that there may very well come a day when eye witness accounts could be less of a factor in courts and replaced by the ever increasing deluge of data provided by security cameras, digital recorders and databases. He points to research that indicates humans typically focus on just 1 percent of their field of vision when observing their surroundings and fill everything else on the periphery from memory. The brain acts "much like a computer on narrow-band, we store a lot of cached information to round out the meager flows we process." That's not a good thing when recounting what you saw in a court of law.

Baker writes:

But now, increasingly, we have sensors to back us up: security cameras, digital recorders. And as those machines take over the monitoring and measuring of physical reality, our own views and testimony will be discounted. Referees in professional sports are already experiencing this. The testimony of eye-witnesses in court, I'm sure, will also be taken ever more lightly as digital evidence piles up.

And then he asks: "Is this progress?"


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