Technology to Torture

Guest post by Deb Chad, Director for Program Technology at Facing History and Ourselves.

History is littered with stories of torture. Deliberate acts of inflicting pain on a person to compel action captures our imagination, evokes empathy, and impassions our beliefs. We study the torture devices of the Middle ages, the outcomes of the witch trials in Colonial Massachusetts, and countless other torture by individuals, groups, and states. Our studies reflect not only the events, but also the human behavior associated with them. Today, there is even a museum in Amsterdam dedicated to looking at torture throughout history.

More current conversations around torture have focused on what types of torture is warranted with the urgency of terrorism. According to a spring 2015 Pew Research Center survey of 38 nations, public opinion around the world is divided about whether government-sponsored torture can ever be justified as part of efforts to prevent terrorist attacks.

Face the Future discussions have focused on the power technology can have on increasing empathy through the sharing of emotions. However, many posts also worry about the misuse of this technology. Using the sharing of difficult emotions as a tool for torture has many of us worried.

Shadow imagination card: "I feel like this could be used as a new torture mechanism or a way to cause people harm"

Shadow imagination card: "People could use it as a form or torture in a way."

Physiological torture has long gone hand and hand with physical torture. Sharing of emotions allowed through FeelThat technology holds the potential for sharing the worst feelings of humanity with unknown consequences.

Shadow imagination card: "The stress of feeling multiple emotions at once could be very overloading for one person. We were not meant to take on that stress. #woods"

Trust in who has this technology and how it is used is essential. This tweet reminds us that torture is just not about the physical, or emotional actions, but about the lasting outcomes.

Tweet by Cheryl Payne (@PayneStevens): .@facinghistory What if govt's used FeelThat to torture its ppl? Could it manipulate them to create We & They? #woods  #FaceTheFuture

According to Human Rights Watch, “The prohibition of torture is a bedrock principle of international law.” What new laws, jobs, and checks and balances would we need for this new technology to ensure responsible use even in the most dire of circumstances?