Making it through a security checkpoint at an airport can be a stressful ordeal even if you don’t have anything to hide. Those moment between when you hand over your ID or bag and when the security agent gives you the all-clear will make you second guess if you’ve actually followed all the rules. Thanks to advances in lie-detection, you might soon have to convince a computer that you’re telling the truth, too, so get ready for a whole other level of paranoia.
The system is called AVATAR, which is short for Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real Time, and is currently being tested by the Canadian Border Services Agency as well as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It’s been in development for some time, and the United States has already deployed AVATAR kiosks in “low risk” areas to get a sense of how they might handle the flow of people moving into and out of the United States at the border.
The AVATAR virtual agent asks questions similar to those that a real agent might ask, such as what the traveler is bringing into the country, whether they’re carrying weapons or if they’re hiding any illicit drugs. The individual’s responses are then analyzed by the system, while the kiosk’s all-seeing eye studies the person’s facial cues, eye movements, stress level, and gestures.
In order to weed out false positives, AVATAR asks simple softball questions at first in order to generate a control measurement with which to compare the rest of the answers to. One of the bright minds that has been working on AVATAR, San Diego State University professor Aaron Elkins, says the system is ready for a full rollout.
“AVATAR has been tested in labs, in airports and at border crossing stations,” Elkins told the SDSU NewsCenter. “The system is fully ready for implementation to help stem the flow of contraband, thwart fleeing criminals, and detect potential terrorists and many other applications in the effort to secure international borders.”