…Because their Lips are Moving

One of the earliest posts I did on this blog related to new technologies in truth-detection and as the political season is heating up again I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit some of those points.  (Here’s the original post)

In particular, I’m interested in the variety of non-invasive technologies that are becoming available to tell whether or not a person is consciously lying.  To a greater or lesser extent, most normal (non-sociopathic) people have some sort of physical manifestation whenever they intentionally lie.  This can manifest as micro-expressions, as fluctions in pitch, frequency and intensity of the voice, and even bloodflow to the face (which can be detected by an infrared camera.)

Are these technologies 100% reliable as lie-detectors?  Not even close.  But they’re also not completely without merit and can, particularly if they’re used in conjunction with other techniques, be very effective.

More importantly, they’re only going to get better – probably lots better. And so even though we may not have the technology yet to accurately and consistently detect when someone is lying, we will eventually be able to look back at the video/audio that is being captured today and determine, after the fact, whether or not the speaker was being truthful.   A bit of retroactive truth-checking, if you will.

In other words, even though we may not be able to accurately analyze the data immediately, we can definitely start collecting it. Infrared cameras are readily available, and microexpressions (which may occur over a span of less than 1/25th of a second) should be something that even standard video (at 30fps) would be able to catch and of course we’ve got much higher-speed cameras than that these days. And today’s cameras should also have plenty of resolution to grab the details needed, particularly if you zoom in on the subject and frame the face only.

So it seems to me that someone needs to plan on recording all the Presidential (and vice-presidential) debates with a nice array of infrared, high speed, and high-definition cameras. And they need to do it in a public fashion so that every one of these candidates is very aware of it and of why it is being done.

Or am I just being naïve in thinking that the fear of eventually being identified as a liar would actually cause people (or even politicians) to modify their current behavior? Maybe, but it seems like it’s at least worth a shot.

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2 thoughts on “…Because their Lips are Moving

  1. Random one Ron, but a guy called Paul Ekman that popularised the FACS system which is the basis for a lot of facial animation systems wrote a book a few years ago called “Telling lies” which was around the subject of lie detection and the such. The first thing he said was the only reason he wrote the book (as the foremost expert on human facial expressions and lying) was that all the other books claiming foolproof methods of lie detection were totally false and he didn’t want misinformation spread. In the specific case of the Lie detector, what it measures is a thing called the autonomous nervous system, which is things like your heart rate, temperature and perspiration, all of which are things you can’t control consciously. The detector takes a base line reading at the start, and measures fluctuations in the three things you can’t control, and that’s what you’re using to determine whether someone is lying or not. What it’s really measuring is someone’s nervousness as opposed to whether they’re lying. For example would you be nervous if you were brought into a police station and hooked up to a lie detector? not exactly the most natural situation in the world so you’d probably be a bit jittery! Likewise if you were accused of murder or some other nasty act out of the blue, you’d likely get nervous too, if only for having thoughts running through your head of “what happens if they don’t believe me?”. All of these things would cause a spike in the autonomous nervous system and thus spike on the graph from the lie detector, but again it doesn’t mean that you’re actually lying. In a tonne of states in america the polygraph has been thrown out as a method of evidence for this reason – apparently it’s only about 55% accurate.

    • Yup, Ekman’s done some amazing stuff and I agree that there’s a LOT of work to be done before lie-detection gets reasonably reliable. Still, I do think it WILL come. And, particularly for things like public speaking by politicians, their baseline ‘nervousness’ when doing a speech will be something that can be factored in to any analysis I think.

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