Coffee Break Read – PhrAInology

“We call it PhrAInology,” Professor Gross said proudly, the slides on the screen behind him flashed through a sequence of pottery heads their skulls marked into a mosaic each section labelled with an attribute such as ‘Ideality’, ‘Benevolence’ and ‘Sublimity’.
The watching journalists were all wondering exactly what “philoprogenitiveness” was supposed to be. A few looked up ‘phrenology’ on their smartphones and frowned to find it was a long-discredited pseudoscience.
“Ever since Franz Joseph Gall realised that the shape of the head could reveal the psychology of an individual in 1796, we have been striving to perfect this technique,” Gross was saying a glow of pride in his eyes, “and now we have.”
There was a murmur of expectation as Goss called up the next slide showing a facial recognition scan turning the head into a mesh-like simulation.
“PhrAInology can use regular facial recognition software on security cameras and take things up a notch.” The screens showed a man wearing a hoody walking along an alleyway behind some shops, shoulders hunched. then he looked quickly around. The screen froze and zoomed in on his face and a rapid animation showed the graphic processing going on. It finished with his face being surrounded by a flashing red outline.
Goss was smiling now as if PhrAInology was a child of his who had just done something clever.
“See? PhrAInology has identified this man as a criminal which means we can now act to prevent him from committing any more crimes.”
On the screen, a spray of bullets could be seen apparently issuing from the camera and the man was thrown back, his body jerking spasmodically, in eerie silence as there was no soundtrack to the video.
“We are presently working on a version that can be used in reception and nursery classes in schools,” Gross told the shocked audience. “Soon criminals will be a thing of the past.”

The lights on the stage shifted and revealed three men sitting on barstools to one side of the stage.
“Now to show how effective PhrAInology really is, I have given some of the journalists in the audience the chance to run PhrAInology for themselves.” He gestured to the three men who all looked well presented. “Here we have three people, one of whom has a criminal background and two do not. I challenge those journalists to tell me which one is the criminal.”
After a couple of minutes of excited speculation, the results came in, flashed up on a screen behind the three men. All had chosen the man in the middle who then got off his stool and admitted he was indeed a convicted criminal.
As the applause died away, Gross said he would take a few questions and most were concerned with possible applications of PhrAInology, but one young woman from an independent-minded news source had a different question to ask.
“Professor Goss, are you a criminal?”
The Professor laughed and shook his head. “Next, question.”
“But Professor Goss, I just ran PhrAInology on you and it says you are.”
Like phrenology before it, PhrAInology proved that the shape of your face and the way you look says nothing about your criminality – or any other aspect of your personality…

E.M. Swift-Hook

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