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A virtual border agent kiosk was developed to interview travelers at airports and border crossings. The technology can detect deception to flag human security agents. The same technology could be used to provide initial screening of refugees and asylum seekers at busy border crossings, and even has commercial applications such as in human resources for screening.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security funded research of the virtual border agent technology known as the Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time, or AVATAR, about six years ago and allowed it to be tested it at the U.S.-Mexico border on travelers who volunteered to participate.
Since then, Canada and the European Union tested the robot-like kiosk that uses a virtual agent to ask travelers a series of questions.
The AVATAR combines artificial intelligence with various sensors and biometrics that seeks to flag individuals who are untruthful or a potential risk based on eye movements or changes in voice, posture and facial gestures.
Aaron Elkins, one of the developers of the system and an assistant professor at the San Diego State University director of its Artificial Intelligence Lab, said the AVATAR as a deception-detection judge has a success rate of 60 to 75 percent and sometimes up to 80 percent. “Generally, the accuracy of humans as judges is about 54 to 60 percent at the most,” he said. “And that’s at our best days. We’re not consistent.”
The technology, which relies on advanced statistics and machine learning, was tested a year and a half ago with the Canadian Border Services Agency, or CBSA, to help agents determine whether a traveler has ulterior motives entering the country and should be questioned further or denied entry.
Regardless, Homeland Security appears to be sticking with human agents for the moment and not embracing virtual technology that the EU and Canadian border agencies are still researching. A Homeland Security official, who declined to be named, told cnbc.com the research did not mature enough for further consideration or further development.
Elkins, meanwhile, said the funding for the AVATAR system hasn’t come from Homeland Security in recent years.