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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Border liars beware

The UA is leading research in helping border agents detect liars.

The AVATAR kiosk, the Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-time, isn’t meant to eliminate humans but rather aid them in detecting lies.

“”The basic problem is people lie and other people are really bad at detecting as to when they are being lied to,”” said Doug Derrick, lead researcher of the AVATAR project and a UA doctoral candidate. “”It’s a machine, so it doesn’t have a bias, it doesn’t have a bad day.””

The system has a sensor, which reads pupil dilation, eye gaze and focus, and the vocalic center, which measures changes in pitch and voice inflection. It also has a video camera and fingerprint reader.

After an interviewee pushes a button, the kiosk asks questions about what a person is carrying with them. If it detects a lie, it asks a series of follow-up questions.

Derrick’s latest study revealed that while humans accurately detect lies about 54 percent of the time, the AVATAR sensor system was accurate 84 percent of the time. When matched with voice inflection, the accuracy rate shot to 93 percent in test subjects ranging from UA students to border guards in the European Union, Derrick said.

“”It’s been to Hawaii, St. Louis, El Paso, Washington D.C., Poland,”” Derrick said.

Derrick and his team have been developing the kiosk’s software for three years. But it is based on 42 years of research by Jay Nunamaker, Regents and Soldwedel professor of management information systems, computer science and communications, and Judee Burgoon, director of human communication at the Center for the Management of Information and communication professor.

The kiosk tries to highlight a dozen or so of the most common psychophysiological and behavioral cues that humans utilize when deceiving others. That subgroup of behavioral cues can aid law enforcement or border agents at ground or air ports of entry.

Humans can mentally control only a few of those cues.

“”It’s inevitable that tell-tale cues will leak out no matter how hard people try to control them when being interrogated,”” Nunamaker said in an Eller College of Management news release.

The kiosk is the result of a six-year grant the UA received from the Department of Homeland Security and is the flagship project of the UA, which heads the National Center for Border Security and Immigration, or Borders. Each university within the group develops its own projects to deal with a section of policy or technology that affects the border region.

“”The group is apolitical,”” said Riley McIsaac, Borders program manager, whose background lies in border and immigration policy. “”We’re here to do the research to supply the policymakers with the information they need.””

UA researchers hope to get both the sensor system and the vocal registry technology working in real time. They also are working to develop a broader set of languages for AVATAR to speak in and develop more cultural considerations as to how people in various countries physiologically respond when lying.

This could make this type of technology applicable in loan applications or job interviews, Derrick said.

Applicable trials could start in 12 to 18 months. A fully functioning prototype could be ready in three to five years, he said.

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