Bill Softky Asks, “Will There Ever Be a Real ‘Lie Detector?'”

Software engineer Bill Softky ponders the question in on-line British technology publication, The Register in his article, “Will There Ever Be a Real ‘Lie Detector?'” Softky begins by dispensing with the delusion that the polygraph can detect lies:

Lie detectors figure prominently in the sauciest dramas, like espionage and murder, but they deeply polarize opinion. They pit pro-polygraph groups like the CIA, the Department of Energy and police forces against America’s National Academy of Sciences, much of the FBI, and now the US Congressional Research Service. The agencies in favor of lie detectors keep their supporting data secret of obfuscated. The critics have marshaled much better arguments.

They have countless earnest references on the site antipolygraph.org, including an amusing 1941 screed on “How to Beat the Lie Detector”, or an elegant essay in Science Magazine. My favorite: a letter by the convicted CIA double-agent Aldrich Ames – written from prison! – with the authority of someone who kept his traitorous career intact by successfully beating polygraphs time and time again: “Like most junk science that just won’t die… because of the usefulness or profit their practitioners enjoy, the polygraph stays with us,” he wrote.

So it’s clear the old lie detector technology is bunk, pure and simple. Will there ever be a new technology which does in fact detect lies? No, and here’s why….

Softky goes on to discuss such technologies as “brain fingerprinting” (which is specifically not offered as a method of lie detection) and fMRI (which is). He concludes:

The present brand of lie detection still hasn’t proved itself scientifically in seventy years of trying, so it should be shelved before it derails even more careers or mistakenly vets even more spies. The new methods may be better, but we should test them as carefully as we do drugs before we give them an equivalent chance to do serious damage.

Very well said!

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