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Aaron Elkins
Aaron Elkins

Border Control Agencies May One Day Use AI to Detect Travelers’ Lies

Aaron Elkins
Aaron Elkins

Border control agencies are already using self-service kiosks to manage the crowds of international travelers entering their countries, but a high-tech type of kiosk in development can do more than just scan passports. The AVATAR—which stands for Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time—can detect travelers trying to lie their way through customs, according to Vocativ.

The self-service kiosks, created by the National Center for Border Security and Immigration at the University of Arizona in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security [PDF], scan travelers' passports and ask the kinds of questions posed by human agents, such as “Do you have any fruits or vegetables?” Sensors can identify body cues like facial expression, vocal tics, pupil dilation—and even cues that human agents can’t see, like cardiorespiratory data—which could indicate that the person is lying and should be subject to additional screening. They can even see that you’re curling your toes, according to a press statement from AVATAR researcher Aaron Elkins of San Diego State University, a professor who studies deception.

The kiosks can be programmed to display several virtual agents, choosing from a woman or a man and a stern or a friendly face. They can be configured to interview in several languages.

AVATAR has been tested in a number of experiments in the European Union and North America, including a pilot program in Nogales, Arizona, in which it screened passengers in the Trusted Traveler program for suspicious or unusual behavior.

"AVATAR has been tested in labs, in airports, and at border crossing stations," Elkins said in the press release. "The system is fully ready for implementation to help stem the flow of contraband, thwart fleeing criminals, and detect potential terrorists and many other applications in the effort to secure international borders." However, not all machines built to detect lies are accurate—polygraph tests are largely useless at sussing out dishonesty, according to many psychologists—so there are plenty of reasons to proceed cautiously with this kind of technology.

[h/t Vocativ]

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Big Questions
Why Are the Keys On a QWERTY Keyboard Laid Out As They Are?
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Why are the keys on a QWERTY keyboard laid out as they are?

C Stuart Hardwick:

What is commonly called QWERTY (more properly, the Sholes layout) was designed by Christopher Lathan Sholes, then modified through a series of business relationships. Sholes's original keyboard was alphabetical and modeled after a printing telegraph machine. The alphabetical layout was easy to learn, but not easy to type on.

For one thing, all practical typing machines of the day relied on mechanical levers, and adjacent letters could jam if struck with rapidity. There has long been a myth that Sholes designed the QWERTY layout to slow typists down in order to prevent this. Nothing could be further from the truth, but Sholes’s first customers were telegraphers. Over several years, he adapted the piano-like alphabetical keyboard into
a four-row keyboard designed to aid telegraphers in their transcription duties.

This new layout mostly spread out commonly struck keys, but also placed easily confused telegraph semaphores together. This layout was sufficient to permit telegraph transcription to keep up with transmissions and created a growing market.

During this time, Sholes teamed up with several other inventors to form a typewriter company with assignment of all related patents. An association with Remington led to increased sales, at which time another company acquired the shift platen patent that permits a typewriter to type in mixed case, and they seem to have made a few essentially random changes in order to avoid the original typewriter company patents.

So that’s it then, right? QWERTY is crap?

Well, no. QWERTY was based mostly on the needs of telegraphers in transcribing Morse code, and Morse had been scientifically designed to make transmission of English language messages as efficient as possible. The result is that the QWERTY arrangement is pretty good—efficiency-wise.

In the 1930s, John Dvorak used modern time-motion study techniques to design his own keyboard, and around it had grown up a whole cult following and mythology. But the fact is, it’s much ado about nothing. Careful scientific studies in the 1950s, '70s, and '80s have shown that choice between the Sholes and Dvorak layout makes no material difference in typing speed. Practice and effort are what yields rapid typing, and studies of professional typists have shown that however well we may perform on timed trials, few typists ever exceed 35 words per minute in their daily work.

So relax. Take an online typing course, practice a little, and relax.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Afternoon Map
Monthly Internet Costs in Every Country

Thanks to the internet, people around the world can conduct global research, trade tips, and find faraway friends without ever leaving their couch. Not everyone pays the same price for these digital privileges, though, according to new data visualizations spotted by Thrillist.

To compare internet user prices in each country, cost information site HowMuch.net created a series of maps. The data comes courtesy of English market research consultancy BDRC and Cable.co.uk, which teamed up to analyze 3351 broadband packages in 196 nations between August 18, 2017 and October 12, 2017.

In the U.S., for example, the average cost for internet service is $66 per month. That’s substantially more than what browsers pay in neighboring Mexico ($27) and Canada ($55). Still, we don’t have it bad compared to either Namibia or Burkina Faso, where users shell out a staggering $464 and $924, respectively, for monthly broadband access. In fact, internet in the U.S. is far cheaper than what residents in 113 countries pay, including those in Saudi Arabia ($84), Indonesia ($72), and Greenland ($84).

On average, internet costs in Asia and Russia tend to be among the lowest, while access is prohibitively expensive in sub-Saharan Africa and in certain parts of Oceania. As for the world’s cheapest internet, you’ll find it in Ukraine and Iran.

Check out the maps below for more broadband insights, or view HowMuch.net’s full findings here.

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

Map of Internet costs in each country created by information site HowMuch.net.
HowMuch.net

[h/t Thrillist]

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