Who Wants a Lie-Detector App?

In A. E. Van Vogt’s The World of Null-A (1945), every room featured a wall-mounted device that would, when queried, say whether someone was lying.

That sounds rather like a nifty add-on for Alexa, doesn’t it? But… Wall-mounted? Or table-sitting? When we have smart-phones loaded with apps to do all sorts of things? Why not a lie-detector app?

The first question to ask is how the heck it would work. There has been some work on detecting lies by analyzing changes in the voice when lying. But “voice-stress analysis” has not proved to be very reliable. There has also been some work on analyzing blood-flow changes in the face, but that is still a work in progress (https://www.cnet.com/news/lie-detecting-camera-tracks-facial-blood-flow/). There’s even an approach that measures pupil dilation (https://www.abc15.com/news/national/a-tech-company-in-utah-uses-your-eyes-to-see-if-youre-lying). If the last two pan out, they might work using a smart phone’s camera, which could also track pulse rate and shifty eyes. David Brin’s first novel, Sundiver, had something like this.

It might be even better if we could use brain waves to detect lies (maybe we could– https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-new-brain/202004/nabbing-criminals-using-brainwave-analysis). And brain waves can be detected from just outside the skull. We just need to improve sensitivity and range and then design a suitable sensor to install in a phone. Now there’s a thought!

There are already “lie detector apps” for the iPhone and Android, but they work about as well as the old Magic Eight-Ball. They even admit, right up front, that they are for pranking folks. Entertainment only. For one, put two fingers on the screen and say something (https://apps.apple.com/us/app/lie-detector-truth-test/id1113503715). Another claims to analyze swipes and taps (https://www.cnet.com/news/your-phone-could-become-a-tool-for-detecting-lies-with-veritaps/). But it only works (if it does at all) on the phone user. Thus it might be good for catching mendacious posts and tweets—type it in, hit SEND, and watch “LIE!” get plastered over it instantly. (Would anyone install this app? It would have to come with the phone, wouldn’t it? Or run on the Facebook and Twitter servers.)

What no one (to my knowledge) is working on is a networked message-comparison app. Is he or she telling you the same thing they have told others? Let’s check their recorded messages in the Cloud and see. This could be a useful check on some people, but it would also pose serious invasion-of-privacy concerns.

What we really need (or just want, maybe) is an app that uses the phone’s camera and mike to collect info on the person facing you, perhaps even if they’re on the other side of a television or phone screen.

So let’s suppose we have such a thing. If you’re like me, you tuck your phone into a shirt pocket, with the camera lens facing out, toward whomever you’re talking to. Turn it on, tap the app, and you’re ready to roll. Lies are announced by a buzz against your skin.

If you are meeting with a realtor, a used car salesperson, or a financial advisor, you might gain some very useful information.

If you’re on a date, it could be a real buzz-killer. Especially if both of you have them. On the other hand, if you’re being honest, the lack of a buzz could be a real buzz.

If your boss has one… You’re in a meeting, maybe even a Zoom meeting, presenting a glowingly over-optimistic sales forecast… “Bzzzt!” and the boss says, “You’re fired.”

If you’re peddling anti-vaccine, anti-climate change, or other BS, you’d better believe your own BS. After all, why would you register as a liar if you don’t think you’re lying?

If you’re trying to con people with deep-faked videos, you’d better get the details right. That means pupil dilation, facial blood flow patterns, pulse, maybe more.

If you’re a politician trying to get votes… The need to be honest would kill some (many? all?) careers. Indeed, I would love to be able to replace at need the skin buzzer with a nice LOUD noise like a sports buzzer. Political rallies would be loads more fun.  Think of all those fans holding up their phones to get pictures of their idols, and BZZZTT!!

Church services could be more fun too. . The media would have even more fun when some politician or mega-preacher insisted that people turn off their lie detectors (er, just their phones) before entering the building. The next step—give it 24 hours, eh?—would be a non-phone lie detector.

Next question: Is it an invasion of privacy to use such an app? I would argue that it is not, since some people have very good bullshit detectors without any technological assist, and no one would argue that they invade privacy by using their natural skills. Nor do people have a right to lie without being called out.

And of course, people can avoid any possible invasion of privacy just be being honest. If we can’t manage that—

No more Zoom meetings.

No more hard sells.

No more crooked politicians (etc.).

No more speed dating.

No more…


That doesn’t actually sound so bad, does it?

So let’s do this app. We’ll make a mint!

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