Robot lie detector being tested by Canada

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What could possibly go wrong? Canada’s border police are currently testing a robot lie-detector that would be used to screen travelers and flag those whose answers it doesn’t like.

AVATAR is a kiosk, much like an airport check-in or grocery store self-checkout kiosk,” said San Diego State University management information systems professor Aaron Elkins. “However, this kiosk has a face on the screen that asks questions of travelers and can detect changes in physiology and behavior during the interview. The system can detect changes in the eyes, voice, gestures and posture to determine potential risk. It can even tell when you’re curling your toes.”

Here’s how it would work: Passengers would step up to the kiosk and be asked a series of questions such as, “Do you have fruits or vegetables in your luggage?” or “Are you carrying any weapons with you?” Eye-detection software and motion and pressure sensors would monitor the passengers as they answer the questions, looking for tell-tale physiological signs of lying or discomfort. The kiosk would also ask a series of innocuous questions to establish baseline measurements so people are just nervous about flying, for example, wouldn’t be unduly singled out.

Once the kiosk detected deception, they would flag those passengers for further scrutiny from human agents.

This Elkins guy fits perfectly the 1960s stereotype of the scientist who is so caught up with the coolness of his invention that he is completely oblivious to its moral and ethical short-comings. Sadly, he appears to be finding lots of governments interested in buying his product.



  • mpthompson

    Didn’t the television-like devices in the novel 1984 have some sort of system to detect whether you were watching the screen and whether your reaction to what you saw was suspicious? This seems like a step in that direction.

    The sad thing is, that as this technology becomes more pervasive the only people able to move freely in our society will be psychopaths and politicians. But, of course, I’m repeating myself.

  • Maurice

    Over the years I have perfected the art of crossing borders and dealing with the idiots that man them. You simply have to make yourself tired ahead of time to the point that you don’t care anymore. Defeats these idiots every time. Flight attendants tend to leave you alone if you settle down and sleep, thinking you’re working right up to the flight (yes I do) then crash.

    Passing those sophisticated systems I consider a challenge – there’s the “hey you, look at me” stare you can train yourself to have to defeat em.

  • LocalFluff

    Being exposed to this machine is in itself a good reason to get nervous. It can only measure things correlated with lying, but that are also correlated with many other things. When a judge evaluates the believability of a witness, nervousness is taken for granted and doesn’t factor in.

    Spectrometer for your smartphone! SciO is a Kickstarter business that has made a spectrometer and an app for it. I’ve tested it, it exists for real and works as promised. It tells how much proteins, carbohydrates, fat and water there is in a piece of food, for example. It can tell an orange from a banana and chocolate from bread. With a refined database and larger CCD and wider band of wavelengths of light this can be improved without limit.

    What is scary is that it can tell if you have diabetes or not. It detects some hormone that comes with diabetes. Thinking about how hormones control our behavior, I suppose one could in principle “see” if a person is stressed, hungry, horny, afraid, tired and whatnot. Our lungs mix blood with air and our skin breaths too. We can hold no secrets. You know how dogs seem to be able to tell our mood, soon we might have a sense for that too.

  • Edward Hanley

    Hire retired cops to do this. Less expensive, more reliable. Or – even better – don’t do it at all. If a screening takes 3 minutes, one machine can allow only 480 people per day to cross a border. One machine at each of the 119 US-Canadian border crossings would allow 57,120 crossings per day. In 2010 there were 140,728 border crossings daily. Put in machines to do what people do better would prevent 60% of border crossings from happening. Sure, it’s only numbers. But it’s something to think about during that long, long, long wait in line.

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