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Thomas Keenan

Thomas P Keenan MA, M.Sc., Ed.D

Punishing With 1,000-Year Sentences: We Have the Technology

Nobody serves a 1,000-year jail term—yet. There may be creepy ways to do that!

Jail cell in Ohio, by Andrew Bardwell

Serial child rapist Charles Scott Robinson was given a 30,000 year sentence by an Oklahoma judge in 1994. Clearly, he won't live to see the end of it. But what if he could be made to think he's in jail for 30,000 years? The technologies to do this might soon be available. Would they be ethical? What if they are turned against us as a weapon?

As I explained in the “Body Creep” chapter of my new book, Technocreep, French philosopher Rebecca Roache has noted that there are drugs that alter our perception of the passing of time. Perhaps one could be used to trick the mind of prisoner into thinking that he was serving, say, a 1,000 year sentence. The same technology could be used by repressive regimes as a form of hideous torture.

Roache even suggests that the day may come when we can upload a prisoner’s mind into a computer and alter the mental cycle rate. “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.” (Read more here.)

She goes on to suggest that “the eight-and-a-half hour 1,000-year sentence could be followed by a few hours (or, from the point of view of the criminal, several hundred years) of treatment and rehabilitation.”

So that vicious serial killer or hardened terrorist could be home in time for supper.

I have enough expertise in computer science to opine that the uploading and downloading of consciousness is still somewhat in the future, though there are technologies, even consumer ones like the NeuroSky biosensor, that are moves in that direction. And this is certainly a very hot research topic for both the military and non-military communities.

Way-out thinkers like Raymond Kurzweil have opined that by the middle of this century, “humans will develop the means to instantly create new portions of ourselves, either biological or nonbiologicial,” so that people can have “a biological body at one time and not at another, then have it again, then change it.” (Read more here.)

What I don’t know enough about is the state of the art in time alteration through drugs. Some quick searches reveal interesting research in this area, and tons of blog postings about the time-warping effects of drugs like DMT (although many of those blog postings seem to have been written while under the influence of psychoactive drugs!).

I believe this is an important and timely topic for discussion and, given the community of informed readers of Psychology Today, I hope you will take the time to weigh in both on the technologies mentioned here and the ethics behind them.

Thank you!


About the Author

Thomas Keenan

Thomas P. Keenan is a science and technology writer, public speaker, and professor of Environmental Design and Computer Science at the University of Calgary.