A Utah-based company called Converus has developed technology called EyeDetect. It’s gaining popularity as a more affordable, less biased version of a polygraph exam, which has long been the gold standard for detecting lies.
EyeDetect relies on an algorithm that weighs a variety of factors. The key indicators are if a person’s eyes dilates while reading a question, and how fast they read questions. Our pupils dilate when we’re deceptive because lying takes more mental energy. The eyes allow in more light and information to help our brains with their added workload. This evolved as a survival instinct, according to David Raskin, a retired University of Utah professor, who worked on the team that developed the science behind EyeDetect.
According to McFarland, EyeDetect, which launched in 2014, is used today in 34 countries as part of job interviews and corporate investigations. Latin American banks, for example, use the technology to determine if their tellers can be trusted. Research has shown the accuracy rates of EyeDetect and polygraph are similar, both nearing 90%.
A person taking an EyeDetect exam sits at a desk and answers true-or-false questions on a tablet. An infrared camera tracks eye movement, blinking and pupil dilation. After 30 minutes, an algorithm scores their deceptiveness on a scale from zero to 100.
According to McFarland, some local U.S. law enforcement departments and private investigators have started using EyeDetect.
“The eyes are the window of the soul,” said Juan Becerra, an investigator at Panther Security and Investigations. He used to work with polygraphs at the FBI and now uses EyeDetect. “This is something that’s revolutionary and that’s going to change the entire deception detection field.”
Converus and the Utah scientists say the U.S. federal government has been slow to embrace the technology. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill this summer lifting the polygraph requirement for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol applicants to address staffing shortages. Advocates for the bill have said flaws in polygraphs have made it more difficult to fill open positions.
Apparently, a deceptive person will generally take longer to answer questions on a test, as they’re being careful. But on the specific questions they’re lying on, they will respond faster.
Raskin and the other Utah professors — a group of leading polygraph researchers who gravitated toward optical tests for deception — said there are several advantages to sensing lies through the human eyes. Polygraph exam results can be biased because humans administer and score the tests. EyeDetect removes the human element.
Ken Roberts, a deputy sheriff in the Dona Ana County Sheriff Department in Las Cruces, New Mexico, has switched from administering polygraphs to EyeDetect exams for pre-employment screenings. Roberts still sees some uses for polygraphs, such as interviewing a suspect in a homicide case, when tailored follow-up questions are necessary.
My opinion? Although interesting, this new technology could be viewed as a more technologically advanced version of junk science.
The general rule in Washington is that polygraph testimony is inadmissible unless it is agreed by both parties. This is because the accuracy (i.e., validity) of polygraph testing has long been controversial. An underlying problem is theoretical: there is no evidence that any pattern of physiological reactions is unique to deception. An honest person may be nervous when answering truthfully and a dishonest person may be non-anxious.
However, even if the test isn’t used in court, it can still be used by police during questioning. If that happens to you, make sure to have an experienced criminal lawyer present to make sure there’s no funny business such as leading questions and/or unscrupulous interrogation tactics.