“Blade Runner” Eye-Scanning Lie Detector May Be Coming To A Dystopian Future Near You

A futuristic eye-scanning lie detector reminiscent of the Voight-Kampff device in Blade Runner may be coming to a dystopian future near you. 

Funded by billionaire Mark Cuban and released in 2014 by startup Converus, the “EyeDetect” examines things like pupil dilation, blink rate and other eye movements to determine whether a person is lying, reports Mark Harris of Wired, who traveled to Converus’ testing center north of Seattle to check it out. 

Released in 2014 by Converus, a Mark Cuban–funded startup, EyeDetect is pitched by its makers as a faster, cheaper, and more accurate alternative to the notoriously unreliable polygraph. By many measures, EyeDetect appears to be the future of lie detection—and it’s already being used by local and federal agencies to screen job applicants. –Wired

The device is “largely automatic” writes Harris – who notes that it does not suffer from one of the major pitfalls of polygraph lie detectors; human operators who can introduce their own biases when they analyze and interpret tests. According to former police chief and Converus employee Jon Walters, EyeDetect is bias-free – and claims to have an accuracy rate of 86 percent – vs. 60-75 percent accuracy of a polygraph

Wired‘s own research refutes this, however, finding through public records requests that “like polygraphs, EyeDetect’s results may introduce human bias an manipulation into its results.”

“Converus calls EyeDetect a next-generation lie detector, but it’s essentially just the same old polygraph,” says transparency activist and independent researcher, Vera Wilde, who has studied polygraphs for several years.”

“It’s astounding to me that there are paying customers deploying this technology and actually screening people with it,” said William Iacono – a professor of neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry and law at the University of Minnesota. 

 In a study from 2013, the National Security Agency used an early version of EyeDetect to identify NSA employees who had taken a cellphone into a secure area, a minor security violation. The test accurately identified just 50 percent of those guilty of the mistake (the same as you would expect from chance) and just over 80 percent of those innocent. –Wired

Still, Converus already has attracted a mountain of interest for its new device – claiming to have “close to 500 customers in 40 countries,” most of whom are using it to screen job applicants. The list of buyers includes the federal government, as well as 21 state and local law enforcement agencies. 

The State Department recently used the system to vet local hires at the US Embassy in Guatemala to the tune of $25,000 taxpayer dollars, according to Wired.  

Converus told WIRED that a Middle Eastern country has purchased EyeDetect and is planning to use it to check whether people entering the country are associated with terrorist activity. In an email to the Salt Lake City Police Department last year, obtained through WIRED’s public records requests, a Converus executive wrote that the company had “been identified as the solution for ‘extreme vetting’ by the new [Trump] administration.” (Though there were discussions with the Trump administration about using EyeDetect for vetting, Converus says the administration never committed to using EyeDetect.) –Wired

The test takes 30 minutes, as opposed to the 2-4 hours required to conduct a polygraph, while the device is also comfortable vs. the traditional cyborg-looking polygraph setup.

“When I was wired up for the polygraph, it was kind of intimidating,” said Walters. “Here you just sit and look into the machine.”

Harris describes his own test: 

I settle in for a demonstration: a swift 15-minute demo where the test will guess a number I’m thinking of. An infrared camera observes my eye, capturing images 60 times a second while I answer questions on a Microsoft Surface tablet. That data is fed to Converus’ servers, where an algorithm, tuned and altered using machine learning, calculates whether or not I’m being truthful.

He asks me to pick a number between 1 and 10 and write it on a scrap of paper before I sit down in front of the EyeDetect camera. Walters instructs me to lie about my chosen number, to allow the system to detect my falsehood. If I beat it, Walters promises to give me $50. (Journalistic ethics mean I’d pass any winnings along to a charity.)

A series of questions flash across a screen, asking about the number I picked in straightforward and then roundabout ways. I click true or false to each question. The EyeDetect camera feels no more intrusive than a normal webcam, and I do my best to keep my face and expression neutral, whether I’m lying or telling the truth.

Almost immediately after the test is over, the screen flashes a prediction based on my eye motions and responses. EyeDetect thinks that I chose the number 3. I had, in fact, picked the number 1. But when I reach for Walters’ crisp $50 note, he stops me. It turns out that Walters’ interpretation of “a number between 1 and 10” includes only the digits 2 through 9. I had fooled the machine, but only by not playing by its rules. On my next attempt, the system correctly detects my hidden number. –Wired

Read the rest of Harris’s adventures in futuristic lie-detection tech that may or may not be so accurate here.