Jan. 18, 2013 at 3:33 PM ET
Long lines at border crossings and airport security checkpoints may be trimmed with the help of a grey metal box about the size of an ATM with an avatar on a computer monitor described by one reporter as a "late-model Max Headroom."
Wired takes an in-depth look at the Embodied Avatar project being developed by researchers at the University of Arizona. The avatar detects liars by asking people a list of short questions as it monitors their eye movements, body language, and vocal tones during each answer.
Research into what happens when we lie indicates our pupils dilate, we fidget more and our vocal pitch changes in slight, tell-tale ways. The avatar is trained to pick up those signs, which it does remarkably well.
For now, the machine is getting a limited workout at a border crossing in Arizona, but its success rates in trials — 94 percent when tested in Poland —has caught the attention of the Department of Homeland Security.
“An avatar interrogator has many advantages over its human counterparts. It’s consistent, tireless, and susceptible to neither persuasion nor bribery,” Wired noted.
People flagged by the Embodied Avatar in Arizona are pulled aside for further questioning by humans who, when acting alone, catch only 54 percent of liars.
More information on the Embodied Avatar technology, the history of lie detectors and research into the art of detecting a deceiver is laid out in Wired's feature. Read it.