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01/20/2004 Archived Entry: "Lie-detector glasses?"

ERNIE HANCOCK SENT AN ARTICLE AROUND THIS MORNING about "lie-detector glasses" and their possible application in airport security.

The glasses use voice-stress analysis to determine (allegedly) if someone is telling the truth. If the TSA screener of the future asks, "Is that a bomb in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" a little system of red-yellow-green signal lights in the glasses is supposed to tell him whether no means no or whether he should call out the SWAT team.

A few years ago, I wrote about voice-stress analysis, as done by a master, Mike Kemp. One fact that emerged vividly from the research was that VSA, to be even the tiniest bit useful, has to be properly read by a human being. It's at least as much art as science.

Mike analysed five or six .wav files of me answering questions. Those questions ranged from "What's your name?" to "Would you inform to the police about the activities of an associate?" On virtually every answer, my voice betrayed doubt and uneasiness. Not because I was lying, but because I don't see the world in black & whites.

My name? Which name? The one my parents gave me, that never fit? Or one of the names I've used professionally during my life? Or ...?

Would I inform on an associate? Never, ever, ever ... but what if I learned the associate was a serial killer? Or that he'd committed a drunken hit-and-run that maimed a young mother? That's a different matter than finking to the ATF, the IRS, or any of the other alphabet soupers. I wouldn't report my worst enemy to those creepoids, just on principle. But in my heart still resides some "good citizen" who knows violence against the innocent is wrong.

In every test, my voice reflected some sort of "if" or "yeah, but ..." A brain-dead mechanical analysis would have triggered yellow lights, or even flashing red lights, sirens, and machine-gun responses from that from Mr. TSA 2010. But in fact, all that my iffy responses indicated was that I have a conscience & that I was thinking about variables. Mike, with a combination of skill, experience, and intuition, was able to sort out ambiguities from guilty lies. But no mechanical or electronic device, however sophisticated, could have done that.

OTOH, just as trained people can fool a traditional lie detector (which operates on some pretty shaky non-science, anyway), a great liar can be flat-out smooth with VSA. Mike reported that almost no one could fool him -- but he admitted our friendly satirist Patty Neill impishly lied her head off without a flicker of conscience and looked like an angel to VSA.

Of course, the idea of using Magic Super Detecto-Glasses for airport security (like those X-Ray vision glasses they used to advertise on the back covers of comic books, I suppose) is still just that. An idea. But in the search for easy yes-no, black-white "answers" to security, it's an idea that will probably appeal to the folk who put mindless goons in charge of feeling up nursing mothers and ancient war vets in the name of "fighting terrorism."

Posted by Claire @ 01:23 PM CST

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