Science | Design & Technology | PSHE

Tech breakthrough signals the death of lying

A nanotech "tattoo" was developed by Tel Aviv University. © American Friends of Tel Aviv University (AFTAU)

Is the truth overrated? In a new breakthrough, scientists have created software that will soon be able to detect nearly all lies. Could humanity survive if lying were impossible?  You have applied for a university place or a job, and they want to do an interview over Zoom. It is all going well, until they ask you about the part of your application where you exaggerated your skills. You are quickly improvising an answer when suddenly the word “lie” flashes across the screen. This is the future promised by a new software that detects slight twitches in our eyebrows or lips when we are lying. By observing these tics, the technology can detect 73% of lies. Humans have been working on methods of lie detection for millennia. In ancient China, the suspect’s mouth would be filled with rice. If the rice came out dry, they were lying, because the anxiety would have caused their mouth to dry up. This is still the basis of lie detection technology today. Traditional polygraph tests look for changes in blood pressure, pulse and breathing for signs that the person being tested is nervous, which suggests they are lying. The new software is a more sophisticated version of the same thing, observing minute changes in your face that are beyond your control. Some are worried about the implications of this. They say if we cannot hide bits of the truth some of the time, then we will constantly be offending other people. Others point out how stressful it can be not knowing what others think of us. If we all told the truth all the time, we might say more hurtful things, but we would not have to worry whether or not people really do like us. On the other hand, perhaps this is all based on a simple misunderstanding of what lying actually means. There are many ways of deceiving someone. As well as lying, we can leave out key information, and make generalisations. These are not lies, exactly, but cause a lot of misunderstandings. Is the truth overrated? True crime Yes: Most people lie as many as three times every ten minutes. We have to be able to conceal information from each other to protect ourselves and others from harm. No: We spend so much of our time worrying about what people really think of us. Perhaps if we were more honest about our opinions, we could be more certain of this, and lead happier and less stressful lives. Or... Not everything can be neatly divided into truths and lies. The best way of lying is often to tell a half-truth. Technology cannot help us work out the difference between the two. 

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