Meet the Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real Time (AVATAR), a robotic device created by San Diego State University management information systems professor Aaron Elkins that will essentially function as a lie detector at international borders.

“AVATAR is a kiosk, much like an airport check-in or grocery store self-checkout kiosk,” explains Elkins. “However, this kiosk has a face on the screen that asks questions of travelers and can detect changes in physiology and behavior during the interview. The system can detect changes in the eyes, voice, gestures, and posture to determine potential risk. It can even tell when you’re curling your toes.”

When AVATAR is in place as a border security measure, travelers will simply step up to the kiosk where the device will ask them questions similar to what a human security agent might ask. The responses will then be analyzed by the system through eye-detection software and motion and pressure sensors to identify signs of lying and discomfort.

The virtual agent will ask several baseline questions that will prevent passengers from being singled out unduly. For example, someone might simply have physiological signs of discomfort because they have a fear of flying and not necessarily because they have something nefarious to hide. Should AVATAR detect anything out of the ordinary, the passenger will be flagged and human agents will take over.

Image Credit: Aaron Elkins/ San Diego State University

Beyond Border Security

Currently, AVATAR’s creator is seeking government agencies willing to put his technology to the test. “AVATAR has been tested in labs, in airports, and at border crossing stations,” he explained. “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.”

While the system was designed with the above applications in mind, AVATAR has potential for use outside of border security as well. "We've come to realize that this can be used not just for border security, but also for law enforcement, job interviews, and other human resources applications as well," Elkins added. "We continue to make improvements, such as analyzing the collected data using Big Data analysis techniques that make AVATAR a potentially valuable tool across many industries."

Advancements in big data, along with constantly improving machine learning capabilities, can lead to more opportunities for automated systems like AVATAR in the near future. Right now, we already have numerous shopping websites employing the technology for a more seamless shopping experience. Fraud detection is another field that has the potential to greatly benefit from this technology, as is the medical industry. One day soon, you may find yourself having more face-to-screen interactions with smart machines like AVATAR than face-to-face ones with traditional employees.

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