Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay
Around the world, governments are facing a serious problem. Prisons are over capacity, and with each passing year, the number of prisoners continues growing at an unsustainable figure. In the US alone, housing a low-security prisoner costs the government an average of $25,378 per year, and with an average sentence rate of 54 months, that means a cost of $114,201 per prisoner!
Eventually, as the population grows, this will reach a breaking point where the only solution is to either increase the number of prisons or completely reform the system.
It’s one reason why some countries still opt for the death penalty. Though this is reserved for the worst crimes, it’s still a controversial topic. For example, what if the person is proven innocent after they’re executed?
But life imprisonment and solitary confinement aren't any better either. It costs taxpayers significant sums of money, with many inmates dying before reaching the end of their sentence. Can that really be called justice?
The solution to this, however, could come in the form of a radical collaboration between drugs and technologies. One that would make a prisoner believe they have served a sentence of 1,000 years, despite only doing so for eight and a half hours.
How Would Such Technology Work?
In the show Black Mirror, an episode shows a convicted murderer trapped in a small cabin and forced to experience time at 1,000 years per minute. What’s truly terrifying about this is that he was subject to this torture for days on end!
But the idea of a pill or drug that could distort a person’s mind in this way is not so far fetched. There are claims that the ‘dream drug’, Calea Zacatechichi, can induce people into dreams that last for years in a single night!
One person supposedly dreamed an entire lifetime and described it as an epic tale. Surprisingly, it did not turn him insane when he woke up, so could such a drug be used on prisoners serving extremely long sentences?
Philosopher Rebecca Roache seems to agree. ‘There are a number of psychoactive drugs that distort people’s sense of time, so you could imagine developing a pill or a liquid that made someone feel like they were serving a 1,000-year sentence.’
One thousand years is a significant length of time, but Rebecca is leading a group of scholars focused on this very outcome. They are looking into how future technologies could help overhaul the justice system and argue that by extending a prisoner’s perceived life, we could significantly shorten their sentences, resulting in massive savings to the taxpayer.
In a second scenario, she describes how it would be possible to upload a person’s mind to a computer and accelerate the rate of time, making them believe that they are serving a far longer sentence. While this may seem like science fiction, we already can distort our minds through virtual reality, so what’s to say we wouldn’t be able to develop technologies that could allow for this one day?
‘If the speed-up were a factor of a million, a millennium of thinking would be accomplished in eight and a half hours… Uploading the mind of a convicted criminal and running it a million times faster than normal would enable the uploaded criminal to serve a 1,000 year sentence in eight-and-a-half hours. This would, obviously, be much cheaper for the taxpayer than extending criminals’ lifespans to enable them to serve 1,000 years in real time.’
But what about the moral and ethical implications of such a method? Is it right to tamper with a person’s mind like this, even if they’re a criminal?
The Ethical Implications
Time distortion is already a technique used in interrogations. When people are exposed to constant light, it is hard to tell what time of day it is. What was only 24 hours could feel much longer, particularly when paired in conjunction with sleep deprivation.
But there’s a big difference between that and creating a virtual psychological prison. We’ve never really tried it before, and we don’t know the implications of serving such long sentences. How would we even control what the prisoner sees?
If the sentence is drug-induced, we’d have little control over what the person dreams about. What if, instead of a hellhole, they’re transported to a paradise? Or worse, to a place where they can reenact all of their worst desires. Such a long sentence would not only drive them to the brink of insanity but could even have the opposite effect of making them far worse than they were before.
As for computer simulations that accelerate the rate of time, the danger would be what if it fell into the wrong hands? If terrorists or a criminal gang seized the technology, who knows what they could do with it. Trapping an innocent person and forcing them to experience an eternal nightmare that they could never escape from would be far worse than death.
Do we want to run the risk of using such technologies, even if it does mean we could save taxpayers money? No technology remains a secret forever, and what would happen if a person who was not guilty was subject to this form of punishment? Would it be fair?
Technology will no doubt have a place in our future justice system. However, right now, we are using them to determine a crime, not to punish a crime. Lie detectors, DNA analysis and fingerprinting methods have resulted in a considerable number of crimes being solved. Still, until now, we have not yet developed an efficient method for punishing criminals.
While many will advocate for reform and rehabilitation, we are also heading towards a future where using drugs and biotechnologies could become a reality. We’re already using them to treat medical patients, so how long before we use them to treat criminals too?
Billions have already been poured into such research, but in our quest to shorten sentences and save money, are we potentially running the risk of creating a very real nightmare?