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A.I. border agents could use machine smarts to tell if travelers are lying

If you’re at an airport or border crossing in the next few years, you could possibly find yourself answering questions asked by a surly artificial intelligence with very little tolerance for lying.

According to a recent report, the United States, Canada, and the European Union are all said to be testing out new technology involving lie-detecting computer kiosks, which uses the latest A.I. tech to determine whether a person is trying to deceive officials.

While facial-recognition technology has been used as a security system in airports for at least the past decade, this proposed A.I. kiosk — like a more officious Siri or Google Assistant with the power to flag you as a possible cause for concern — goes further than simple face-matching. To make its judgments, the lie-detecting technology incorporates smart image recognition to spot signs of potential shiftiness. This includes giveaway eye movements, vocal changes, odd posture, or facial movements. According to a CNBC report, the technology is up 80 percent accurate when it comes to spotting potential deceit, which it a better hit ratio than that of human agents employed to carry out this task. Humans, by comparison, score between 54 and 60 percent when carrying out these judgments.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security first funded this research for a virtual border agent around six years ago. The Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time (AVATAR) project was carried out by a team of researchers at the University of Arizona. It was tested at the U.S.-Mexico border on travelers who volunteered to participate in the study. In a report describing the 2011-2012 trial, the AVATAR technology was described as being potentially useful for processing citizenship, asylum, and refugee applications as a way to reduce backlogs. Similar systems have also been tested by other countries.

President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget request for Homeland Security includes a $223 million sum intended for “high-priority infrastructure, border security technology improvements.” An additional $210.5 million covers the hiring of new border agents. While the timeline for technology such as AVATAR to be rolled out is not clear, it would certainly make sense for tech such as this to factor into future plans.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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