Immigration officers at border crossings between the United States and Mexico are looking forward to getting some high-tech help soon. Avatars at the border. Today, on Engineering Works!
The avatars are virtual Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in video kiosks. They speak English and Spanish, and they are the first stop in screening for the U.S. government’s Trusted Traveler program.
The Trusted Traveler program screens low-risk frequent travelers ahead of time so they can bypass long lines at border crossings and airport security stations.
The avatars are linked to advanced voice analysis computer programs that use things like speaking volume, pitch, how fast a person speaks, and tone of voice to detect possible deception. Flagged travelers get a face-to-face interview with a live ICE agent.
The avatar has different voices, depending on whether it speaks English or Spanish. The face stays the same, whichever language it speaks. The researchers who developed the analysis software found that the system worked much better when people being screened spoke to a human figure instead of just speaking into a microphone alone.
The system is still being tested, and immigration officials aren’t sure when the agency will start using it for real and in more locations than now.
We don’t cross any borders on our way home, so we won’t be talking to an avatar any time soon. See you next time.
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Start the discussion: Computer software that analyzes human voices is right on the edge of science fiction, and not everybody’s happy about the idea. Does it invade our privacy? Let us know what you think.