Avatars on the border

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol along with researchers from the University of Arizona are testing out a new system that uses avatars to check frequent travelers at the Mexico-Arizona border.

People who frequently travel across the Mexico-Arizona border might get the chance to stop and chat with a unique yet friendly face when entering the United States.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Patrol along with Aaron Elkins and colleagues at the University of Arizona, have installed a virtual border patrol officer in Nogales, Arizona. The virtual officer is currently in the test phase and is helping to enroll travelers in Trusted Traveler programs. These programs provide dedicated lanes and kiosks for pre-approved, low risk travelers according to CBP's website.

The avatar, which looks like an ATM with a graphic representation of a customs officer, is the first line of defense for travelers applying for the program. The avatar conducts preliminary interviews and can detect suspicious behavior with the use of voice anomaly-detection software.

Scientific American reports:

"Anomaly detection is based on vocal characteristics -- changes in factors such as rate, volume, pitch and intonation -- that may be related to different emotional, arousal and cognitive states. An inflection in one's voice may indicate uncertainty, or a pause might imply that an interviewee may have been devising a deceptive answer, Elkins says. The kiosk's speech recognition software monitors the content of an interviewee's answers and can flag a response indicating when, for example, a person acknowledges having a criminal record."

The kiosk is an updated version of a system that was tested at the station last December through March. The new system is able to communicate in both English and Spanish and its speech recognition software has also been improved to better detect when an interviewee is speaking. The new system can also request an interviewee to repeat an answer.

Once an interviewee responds to the questions, automated feedback gets sent to human officers who conduct follow-up interviews and can ask further questions if a person's feedback is flagged as suspicious.

Although there is potential to expedite border crossing, the effectiveness of a system that relies on physiological and behavioral details to determine risks remains inconclusive. There is a lot of potential for false positives. What if a person is nervous or unsure about talking to an avatar and stutters in their speech only to get flagged as being suspicious?

But Elkins and his colleagues have spent the past few years working on screening technology for detection deception and they plan on continuing to develop this technology.

Scientific American reports:

"The researchers are hoping this second phase of the Nogales pilot test will include more than 1,000 interviews. After the kiosk's performance is analyzed, Elkins would like to add a feature that lets interviewees scan their passports and other documents into the device. Another option might be to equip the kiosk with some other sensors -- such as video analyzers, eye trackers and thermal or infrared cameras -- that could offer additional means of analyzing interviewees."

via Scientific American

Photo via University of Arizona

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com