The AI prison of the future is just an Outer Limits episode

A new proposed prison system called Cognify aims to mentally incarcerate prisoners.

Hashem Al-Ghaili

According to the Prison Policy Institute, the US has a higher incarceration rate per 100,000 people in its population than any other NATO country and it’s even higher than the next five member states combined (the UK, Portugal, Canada, France and Belgium).

So what’s the solution? Hashem Al-Ghaili, a molecular biologist and science communicator from Yemen, claims he’s got it in an interview with Wired: build a virtual prison instead. He’s not talking about stapling a bunch of Meta Quest 3’s to prisoners' heads for years at a time, but it’s also not far off from that concept.

Al-Ghaili is proposing a new neurological prison system that he calls Cognify. He posted a proposal video of the virtual justice system on his Instagram and YouTube channel and it looks downright horrifying.

Here’s how Cognify works in a theoretical nutshell — Instead of locking prisoners up for long periods of time, prisoners would be subjected to artificial memories in a virtual environment. The system creates customized AI-generated content that’s converted to visual information and delivered to the prisoner’s brain as well as the parts of their DNA and RNA linked to memory formation to establish a long term memory pattern.

Currently, such technology does not exist and Cognify is only a proposal. However, Al-Ghaili claims that experiments conducted on animals prove this process could work on humans at some point in the future. For instance, a study published in March in the scientific journal Nature in March that used mice as its test subjects found that memories are possibly formed by broken and repaired strands of DNA.

Of course, there are ethical implications and effects that would need to be addressed if such a system were to become a reality. Al-Ghaili says Cognify could happen within a decade from now but only “if we could overcome the ethical restrictions that limit testing such technology.”

If that doesn’t send a shiver up your spine, then check your wrist for a pulse. Horror anthology fans like me will remember an episode from the 1990s reboot of The Outer Limits on Showtime called “The Sentence” in which a scientist played by David Hyde Pierce invents a very similar virtual prison system that simulates an entire life sentence within a matter of minutes. He, of course, subjects himself to his own invention that makes him believe he committed a murder and served an entire lifetime in prison. He wakes up only to start denouncing the very system he championed just a few minutes earlier.

You can watch the whole thing on YouTube for free. Someone should send it to this guy.