Lie detection infiltrating everyday life

Handy technology puts new twist on age-old search for the truth


When Bill Clinton first said, “I never had sexual relations with that woman . . .” back in 1998, a report flushed that a new Israeli lie detector figured he was being truthful.

Looking back on the contradicting outcome, Katsuhisa Katoh, manager of AlphaOmega Soft Co.’s Risk Technology Group, which is affiliated with Israel’s Trustech Ltd., defends the tool’s reliability: “The software maker’s president may have been afraid of making an overstatement because of several ambiguous findings.”

Boasting 85 percent accuracy, Truster, lie-detection software made by Trustech, has sold 5 million copies in the West and 20,000 in Japan since its released in early 1998.

Its apparent popularity is partly due to its wide media coverage. Time magazine, for example, tested the program against the backdrop of the October 2000 presidential election debate between then Texas Gov. George W. Bush and incumbent Vice President Al Gore. According to the test results in a resulting article, Bush was a lot less certain and more likely to exaggerate than Gore.

Originally developed for Israeli border checks, Truster, sold for 21,400 yen in Japan, detects the uneasiness hidden in a human voice.

The software examines the subject’s stress, excitement, and manipulation levels from their speech, either in recorded form or live into a microphone, and simultaneously displays its analysis.

Truster Pro, the more advanced version of the program (650,000 yen), is capable of breaking down speech into smaller segments and giving more detailed analysis.

The software’s distributor AlphaOmega Soft stocks dozens of voice recordings from different sources that have been submitted for screening.

One of them is Masumi Hayashi’s videotaped statements from a TV interview. She is currently on trial for mass murder over a July 1998 curry-poisoning incident in Wakayama that left four local residents dead and 63 others sick.

Her remarks were cut into segments, analyzed and judged according to the following categories: truth, false statement, high stress, subject excited, or subject unsure.

The Truster blared “false statement” at Hayashi’s elaboration on how long she actually stayed at the ill-fated festival.

Cracking cases

Ohara Research Security has been using the Truster program since 1999.

Makoto Ohara, director of the private investigative office, wouldn’t give the exact number or percentage of Truster-applied cases, but admits that all the statements of clients and other sources are recorded for evidence.

“Our research dwells on legwork and evidence. The Truster is used only for limited support,” he says.

Nonetheless, Ohara, with 45 years of investigation experience, and his staff heavily rely on the software to examine the legitimacy of a potential customer’s claims or to avoid unintentionally abetting crimes.

Ohara’s firm can reject a case, for example, if a client who’s looking for a person is not a family member as insisted, but a mere stalker.

In other cases, the Truster helps strip the gild off people. The sleuths can verify a company’s sales figures or a job applicant’s personal history and motivation when potential investors and personnel managers send them tapes.

Ohara believes that employing such a high-tech tool could benefit defense lawyers as well: “Verifying a defendant’s statements at an early stage would help make the current trial system fairer and faster, once the privacy issue is cleared,” he says.

Even skilled liars in normal circumstances have a slim chance of outsmarting the Truster, according to Ohara.

Yet, its accuracy actually falters on confident liars or those who are familiar with the program and are prepared to lie, according to technical researcher Daiki Hayashi.

That’s one reason that the clients are never notified before the interview that the Truster will be used.

Another important rule is that the subject’s “undoubtedly honest” statements must be calibrated prior to testing. About 20 seconds of voice sampling from banal conversation is sufficient.

An experiment on staff researcher Kazuyo Okuma revealed that the Truster could not detect a blatant lie about her age — eight years too young — but showed “high stress” on her answers about past boyfriends and details about the detective office’s business.

All things considered, Ohara is philosophical about lies in general: “No one has lived their life without telling a single lie. Lies are sometimes lubricants in our relations.” He says that he refrains from using the tool more than necessary and never uses it on his employees.

Finding hidden truths

The lie detector’s potential is not only to catch acts of evil.

Dr. Yoichi Kakibuchi, a clinical psychiatrist and therapist at Hohwarei Hospital in Ibaraki Prefecture, reports success with the Truster in psychoanalysis.

A stomach-ulcer patient was showing symptoms of depression, but denied having any stress in his life. Kakibuchi asked several questions using the Truster and found the patient ranking high on the stress graph while discussing his job.

The doctor then explained that he was using the Truster and gave the man one week to contemplate the test results. At the second interview, the patient confided that his recent promotion was putting great pressure on him. Kakibuchi then prescribed a temporary leave of absence in order to relax, trusting the Truster’s results.

A Tokyo publishing house, which asked not to be named, also reports success in getting to the bottom of a problem it was having with its temporary staffers. Management had been baffled after three temp workers in a row quit in midterm.

Temporary staffers tend to avoid making negative open comments about their work environments, as it may affect future assignments from their employment agencies.

Determined to get to the bottom of the situation, the administration manager started interviewing the staff using a surreptitious recorder and the Truster software.

The subjects had little trouble answering questions about their salary, but showed high amounts of stress on questions about their immediate boss, who was eventually replaced.

The lie of the party

Asian marketers obviously couldn’t resist making gadgets using the Truster technology.

Using AlphaOmega Soft’s IC chip, Korean manufacturer 911 Computer developed the Handy Truster, which attaches to a cell phone, and has distributed 300,000 units worldwide.

This device displays the probability of a lie using an LCD image of an apple — the bigger the bite out of the apple, the bigger the suspected lie.

Although carrying almost the same accuracy level (82 percent) as the original namesake software, the Handy Truster is advertised more as a party novelty. But it often ends up being used to test the fidelity of a boyfriend or girlfriend.

In Japan, toy maker Takara released the product in March 2000 with a price tag of 12,800 yen. Other companies followed suit. System maker and trader Sophia International Inc. now distributes three models of the Handy Truster with a headset, cell phone connection cable and a battery in packages that range between 6,800 yen and 12,800 yen.

What’s more, game maker Namco has developed an arcade game, “True Color Developer,” using the Truster technology. Friends and couples can pick a sample questionnaire of 400 patterns and test each other’s true opinions on their careers, personalities, relationships and health for 300 yen at a time.

Yet, even in a gadget-happy market that boasts 60 million cell phones, Handy Truster sales in Japan remain short of 1,000 units.

Industrial applications

The most recent Truster-inspired product is AlphaOmega Soft’s software i-Risk, which was released in February.

The i-Risk system is designed to improve customer service at call centers, a rapidly growing market. By analyzing a caller’s voice tone on the phone, i-Risk can enhance communication with customers and alert staff to potentially fraudulent calls.

Connecting the operator’s telephone and the computer, the software calculates the customer’s voice frequencies in 23 areas, such as stress, surprise and confusion.

The resulting analyses can then be categorized as “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory,” or “high-risk” and “low-risk,” based on the company’s needs. The system simultaneously displays or records the test results during the conversation.

Nearly 10 financial corporations are testing i-Risk, priced at 30 million yen for a 10-operator environment. A few of them reportedly have already employed the system.

How such psych tools will affect our lives remains to be observed.

Lie-detection devices have been around for 85 years, since the 1917 invention of the polygraph, which required strapping electrodes to a testee’s body. While there have been major technological improvements since then, polygraph testing still depends on how a person — guilty or innocent — responds after being openly connected to a machine.

Although the Truster’s accuracy is only slightly better than the polygraph, according to AlphaOmega Soft’s Katoh, the new application can be used unnoticed by the subject, without the anxieties associated with polygraph testing.

Would wide-scale use of the Truster make for a better or an incredulous world?

Katoh says: “To read someone else’s mind is our fundamental desire. That’s why the demand (for the Truster technology) is so high.”