It’s the latest edition of the military’s eternal quest for “A Thingamajig that Solves All Terrorism.” This time, the Army wants a portable gadget that can detect American foes, liars and other delinquent characters with near-perfect accuracy, and do it without ever making physical contact. Yeah, good luck with that, boys.
In the Pentagon’s latest round of research proposal requests, which offer small businesses cash money in exchange for lofty innovation, the Army is after ideas for a gizmo they’ve dubbed “The Standoff Counter Human Deception Detection Device.” Right now, military interrogators depend largely on the same tools used by law enforcement agencies or Jerry Springer “Is Your Brother Her Lover?” infidelity episodes. They use good old lie-detection machines (even though they’re notoriously imperfect), or they turn to well-honed, albeit fallible, human BS radar.
That dearth of options has long been a dilemma the military’s looked to solve. In the past five years alone, they’ve considered the merits of myriad options, including biometric-based deception detection, that’d evaluate metrics like a person’s gait or body temperature to assess honesty, the improvement of cultural expertise to improve overseas interrogation and even — yikes! — the use of pharmaceuticals as veritable truth elixirs.
They’ve yet to optimize any of the above strategies, but that hasn’t stopped the Army from setting their sights even higher. They’re asking businesses to offer up a device that can be used at least two meters from a human subject, and can “assess psychophysiological characteristics” — which could include everything from heart rate to eye movement to brain waves — to determine the credibility of subjects undergoing questioning. Of course, distance is the key challenge here. Lie detectors already rely on heart rate to assess truthfulness, and the Army’s even field-tested a hand-held lie detector, the PCASS, which was clipped to a subject’s fingertips. This new gadget would presumably combine a heart rate metric with several others, all of them able to be measured without a subject’s knowledge or involvement, and then spit out “the subject’s deception percentage” in real time.
Already, it’s enough to make our bullshit detector blink red. But the Army’s also looking for unprecedented accuracy. The military claims its PCASS device was correct around 76 percent of the time, compared to 83 percent for a trained human interrogator and 50 percent for someone making a random guess. This gadget should outdo all of them, boasting 90 percent accuracy “in varied environments.”
It’s a far-fetched idea, but if successful, the Army’s pocket-sized ruse radar could have countless civilian applications. For one thing, you might finally figure out why your youngest son is the spitting image of your Uncle Louie.
Photo: U.S Army