Friday, September 16, 2011

"New emotion detector can see when we're lying"

BBC News reports that a research team from universities in England and Wales has developed a new computerized camera system that "successfully discriminates between truth and lies in about two-thirds of cases" when tested with volunteers (reported by Hamish Pritchard, September 13, 2011). The team spokesman, Hassan Ugail of Bradford University, is quoted as speculating that "In a real, high-stress situation, we might get an even higher success rate," even up to 90%, which is reportedly "similar to the performance of the polygraph."

The beauty of such a system for detecting terrorists at airports is obvious - just scan everyone and double-check anyone who seems to be lying. Employers will also be excited at the prospect of using it in job interviews. Private investigators will invest in a portable unit that they can hide in a potted plant at a restaurant where a woman can ask her husband, point blank, whether he's fooling around. The applications are endless. 

The mischief that such a device could create is nearly endless. The last I heard, the polygraph was widely considered ineffective and of dubious worth in criminal cases. I am also given to believe that polygraphs and fingerprints have never been adequately tested for reliability, so if this system is given more rigorous screening, it might prove to be better than I expect it will be. No matter how (in)accurate it turns out to be, people tend to be so credulous about lie-detecting machines that it will probably be taken as infallible.

The kicker comes in the last paragraph: Like the polygraph, the new system detects "emotions, such as distress, fear or distrust, and not the act of lying itself. Fear can sometimes be the fear of not being believed rather than the fear of being caught." Or the fear of flying, or being water boarded.

Thanks to Colin Allen for drawing my attention to this.

Ken Pimple, PAIT Project Director

No comments: