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New technology knows when we’re lying

Lie-detecting technology is being used in banks and police stations to figure out who is trustworthy and who is not.

What it means: Think you’ve got a good poker face? Think again. Apparently, technology can now tell when any of us are lying, by picking up micro-expressions in our facial movements. And that’s not all. The way we write changes depending on whether we’re writing the truth or not… so technology can pick up our written porkies too.

Being able to detect liars would be good for lots of people. Banks in China are using cameras to figure out when loan applicants are fibbing about what they want to do with the cash and/or whether they can back it back. And police in Spain have started using artificial intelligence technology to figure out whether written reports of robbery are true or not.

What would economies look like if everyone always told the truth? (We might have some different politicians, for a start). There could be big benefits. One of the Chinese bank bosses who uses lie-detecting tech says that his business now loses 60 percent less money from people not paying their loans back. That’s good for the bank, but it might also be good for people who could benefit from a loan but currently struggle to prove their creditworthiness: because they’re poorer, say, or ran into financial difficulties in the past.

The Spanish police, meanwhile, were able to dismiss 83 percent of the robbery claims that the tech had flagged as false, giving them more time and resources to spend on real crimes. And it’s easy to see how we could all benefit from a justice system that is much better at knowing who is innocent and who is guilty.

But there could be big problems too. If the technology isn’t 100 percent accurate, then honest people will be unfairly accused of being liars, and wrongly shut out of financial and justice systems. And even if the tech is always right, lots of people will consider it creepy and morally questionable. Lies don’t always cause harm - they can protect people’s feelings, keep our personal lives private and keep us or other people safe. And for some people, ensuring we all have privacy and safety should be valued much more highly than getting back the money we currently lose to fraud and other lies.

Read our explainers on technology and innovation and values.

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Reader Comments

  • ClawV23

    So they’re more or less becoming homeless on purpose and taking advantage of people’s kindness? That’s very disappointing, I’ve always imagined myself walking on the path of the monk but my idea of a modern monk was to achieve a level of independence at which I can grow my own food on a piece of land I own, make my own hemp clothes and live in a small log cabin somewhere outside civilization instead of begging people for a bowl of food.