LC briefing: Lie detectors – how it all started

10:45 am - March 12th 2009

by Unity    

      Share on Tumblr

Time for some background to this story. The public sector business services contracts company Capita are behind the DWP trial. In fact all the local authorities involved in the trial have IT services and outsourcing contracts with Capita. This notice verifies that.

In November 2004, Capita acquired the full shareholding in an insurance claims investigation company called Brownsword Ltd from private equity investors, ISIS Equity Partners. In buying out Brownsword, Capita also acquired an exclusive 10 year licence, from another company (DigiLog UK) for what DigiLog calls its  ‘Advanced Validation Solutions’ – this is the same system that the DWP are trialling and at the heart of that system lies the controversial ‘voice risk analysis’ software we’ve been investigating.

As some readers have already noted, this software-based system, which its developer calls ‘Layered Voice Analysis’ (LVA), was developed from a patent filed in 1997 by an Israeli national, Amir Liberman, and is currently owned and marketed by Liberman’s company, Nemesysco. DigiLog UK is Nemesysco’s UK agent and distributor.

So far, we’ve referred to this system as a ‘lie detector’, but in fact, Nemesysco makes a number of much more expansive claims for its technology on its website.

Nemesysco’s own description of its LVA technology includes the claim that:

LVA uses a patented and unique technology to detect “brain activity traces” using the voice as a medium. By utilizing a wide range spectrum analysis to detect minute involuntary changes in the speech waveform itself, LVA can detect anomalies in brain activity and classify them in terms of stress, excitement, deception, and varying emotional states, accordingly.

While Digilog UK Ltd states on its website that:

The VRA technologies [Nemesysco’s LVA system] used in AVS perform thousands of mathematical calculations to extract more than 120 emotional data parameters from each voice segment. These are automatically analysed further, resulting in the identification of nine 9 major categories of emotional content, the correlating patterns of which allows the technology to determine the signposts to truth, uncertainty, deception, etc.

In the Beginning…

While researching this story we actually came across an old newspaper report (dating to 1998) in which the reporter, an Israeli freelance journalist, provides an account of Liberman’s version of how came by the idea for this technology:

Computer whiz Amir Leiberman [sic], 25, envisioned the idea after a suicide bomber killed four Israeli women at a Tel Aviv cafe last March. I was newly married, and I thought, `What if something like this will happen to my wife?’ ” said Leiberman, who had worked for a private security service. “I knew that if I had something like Truster, I could ask people at the border if they are planning to do something in Israel, and I wouldn’t need material proof [to start a search]. I can investigate and find out.

Truster, which he mentions, was the first system to be developed from his patent, by a small Israeli software company called Makh-Shevet Ltd, which had been founded, originally, to produce educational software and computer games on the Glil Yam kibbutz. Liberman worked for/with Makh Shevet from 1997 to 1999/2000, at which point he broke with Makh Shevet and founded his own company, Nemesysco, to continue to develop and market systems based on his original 1997 patent.

How does it ‘work’?

Nemesysco’s LVA system does make some attempt to actually process and analyse the acoustic characteristics of speech. In fact, the specific characteristic that the patent suggests that the system tries to analyse is ‘intonation’, as noted by this description of the system from the patent filed in Israel in 1997 and, subsequently, in the US in 2003:

A method for detecting emotional status of an individual, the method including receiving a speech specimen generated by the individual and deriving therefrom intonation information, and generating an output indication of the individual’s emotional status based on the intonation information.

The word, intonation, appears twenty-one times in the text of the patent and intonation is, indeed, one of the many prosodic characteristics that a system that purports to be capable of detecting stress, emotions and mental states from non-linguistic characteristics of an individual’s speech would need to evaluate.

One such feature, and its a particularly important one in a multi-cultural society like the UK, is the fact that our own (human) ability to detect emotional content in speech is very much language dependent and relies heavily on our understanding not only of language itself, but how that language is commonly spoken by a native speaker.

Nemesysco claims that its system is ‘language independent’, and therefore must be capable of dealing not only with English, as spoken by a native English-speaker, but also allow for the fact that at least of portion of the individuals being evaluated by the system will have English as a second language and, therefore, speak in such a way as to incorporate some of the prosodic characteristics of their native language in their spoken English and cope with their use of speech sounds that are not part of the phonology of the English language.

Criticism and legal action

In December 2007, in a paper published in the International Journal of Speech, Language and the Law, two Swedish academics: Anders Eriksson, professor of phonetics at the University of Gothenburg and Francisco Lacerda, a professor of linguistics at Stockholm University made a detailed examination of the Nemesysco’s claims in the patent for its LVA technology.

Eriksson and Lacerda’s, “Charlatanry in forensic speech science: a problem to be taken seriously“, can currently be obtained from both WikiLeaks and (just search for the researcher’s names) and, after providing a broad overview of known technology which claims to be capable of detecting untruthfulness is speech, it went to to single out Liberman and his LVA system, also marketed to Skype users as a ‘voice love detector’, for particular criticism.

Almost a year after the paper was published, in a small, specialist, scientific journal, Nemesysco responded to the paper, via their lawyer, by threatening to sue the publisher of the journal in which the paper appeared, claiming that the paper was ‘seriously defamatory’ and likely to ‘a serious negative effect’ on Nemesysco’s business.

Equinox, the publisher, still has just the abstract and the legal notice on its website.

In addition to picking over the science behind Nemesysco’s system, Eriksson and Lacerda’s paper – which is little lively that you’d usually expect for a paper in an academic journal, also delves a little into Liberman’s personal background by citing information taken from a 2004 newspaper report which appeared in the Swedish daily newspaper, Expressen. The journalist who filed this report, Arne Lapidus, was, at the time, working as a freelancer in Israeli and prompted by earlier press reports of a dispute between Eriksson and Lacerda and Nemesysco’s Swedish representatives, Lapidus traced Liberman / Nemesysco to a small office in the Israeli town of Natania, the appearance of which, at the time, suggested, to the journalist that the company was “a one-man operation”.

The journalist interviewed Liberman about his academic background and was allegedly told that he “basically had none”. When asked whether he had ever obtained a university degree, Liberman reportedly replied that he had “never had time to get one” but he did say he had taken “some marketing courses at an Israeli open university”.

This was picked up by on by Eriksson and Lacerda, in their paper, prompting them to ask exactly how insurance companies, police departments and government agencies were willing to invest so much money in Nemesysco’s products without ever asking who was behind them, what their qualifications are and what are the scientific principles upon which the products are based.

Responding to Liberman’s threat of libel action, Francis Lacerda said: “It is incredibly serious that they are trying to silence us in this way. I have never heard of anything like it. We have apparently damaged their business.”

He added: “We showed that the invention cannot work. The article had a journalistic tone and was rather provocatively written. We wanted to prove that the technology behind the lie detector is a scam.”

    Share on Tumblr   submit to reddit  

About the author
'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
· Other posts by

Story Filed Under: Blog ,DWP lie detectors ,e) Briefings

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Reader comments

Corporate welfare at it’s worst.

The privatisation of the Prison system in America has led to the highest prison population in the so called free world. Politicians take money from corporate private companies, and then enact laws that benefit said corporations. Billions of $ are handed over to these companies without question.
It has reached the farcical point in America where a right wing govt, Bush Cheney ( Supposed to care about competition) creates a no bid process where govt contracts are handed out to companies like Halliburton that Cheney used to run.

America, in some states even handed over the whole voting process, to private corporations who count the votes through electronic voting machines. The politicians were so stupid or corrupt that they allowed the Companies to insist that there would be no paper trail back up, and no one could examine the inside of these machines, to see if the software was working correctly. Corporate confidentiality is used as wonderful excuse to cover up what is really going on. Many of the companies that the govt gave the contract to, quite openly admitted in both the 2000 and 2004 ,election how they wanted to see a Republican govt elected. Can you imagine a British election run by a private company with links to one major political party?

Sally: I believe that these people can provide readers with an accurate understanding of the Diebold saga and its implications for civil liberties.

I am not concerned particularly with the risk that manipulation of Diebold or similar machines could sell another US election. Too many watchdogs, too much local and parochial control over procedures used, meaning there’s too much variation.

No, what I’m scared of is that Diebold are not seriously trying to market their machines to America. That market is, for them, purely advertising; it means they can say to third-world governments ‘hey, look, the US uses our machines’. Then they can sell their machines to third-world governments, particularly Central and South American ones, where there isn’t an infrastructure for oversight and legal challenge, and the people in power can mandate that only votes cast through such machines are valid.

Then someone’s in trouble, and in not many decades, they’ll be spreading it around.

Ooops. I failed to include a tag and I can’t seem to delete/repost the comment…

For a slightly less moonbattered analysis of the travesty that is the racialised American prison system, I can highly recommend this week’s Cato Unbound:

Lot of food for thought.

Please, not the Cato institute.

Just one of the many American wing nut, right wing think tanks, that are funded by billionaires and millionaires for the sole purpose of propagandising policies, that benefit, the very same billionaires, and millionaires.

Sally –

Serious offer, if you would like to post a blog or two on my blog, go over there and hit contact me.

To the OP –

Will this then open the government up to ‘class action’ lawsuit?

If a person is denied their 40 quid a week or whatever because of this machine/software/crap – then will that leave the person open to sue – and by what you are writing – can and will be used in a civil case where the claimant can become a millionaire over night?

Interesting when you really start getting into this.

7. Shatterface

Quack science and highly litigeous – why do I feel the dead hand of L Ron Hubbard behind all this?

A quick tip though: even if lie detectors did work they’d first have to establish a baseline against which changes in your voice could be measured so next time you call a government department, bank or an insurance company make sure you are having a wank when they ask your name and address.

I’ve been doing this as a precautionary measure since my girlfriend left me.

8. Mike Killingworth

I’m beginning to think this is a lost cause.

I wanted to link to an article in to-day’s Guardian (it’s on page 8) in which Sir Tim Berners-Lee discusses the threat the Internet posts to privacy (I admit this is winding the thread a bit, so apologies to those that upsets) – but their site’s in a complete mess and kept freezing on me, not that I could find the article there anyway.

In truth, the combination of the State and business interest in our personal data is so overpowering that sooner or later privacy will become a thing of the past. A generation will grow up believing that “if you’ve got nothing to hide…” and let’s face it, most people did not resist Hitlerian or Stalinist tyranny.

The abuse of voice recongition technology is but part of a wider picture.

Doesn’t Capita run the TV licensing business these days? Perhaps they’re planning to make people who don’t have a TV licence take a lie detector test!

Capita, huh? Well, that explains it – they specialise in selling things that don’t work. When are EDS getting involved? It’s surely only a matter of time…

“Please, not the Cato institute.

Just one of the many American wing nut, right wing think tanks, that are funded by billionaires and millionaires for the sole purpose of propagandising policies, that benefit, the very same billionaires, and millionaires.”

Just read it and I think you will be quite surprised by what he says. Of course, they are getting a couple of more traditional right wingers to respond to him but the case he makes demonstrates how broad and racially conscious a libertarian platform can be.

Nemesysco have just released a response to the controversy:

read all about it!

They even quote yours truly & various other bloggers.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: LC briefing: Lie detectors – how it all started

  2. Geoff Dunham

    @socialtechno @charlesarthur “lie detector by phone” background at (via liberalconspiracy)

  3. Gordon Rae

    RT @NeedANewName “lie detector by phone” background (via liberalconspiracy)

  4. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: LC briefing: Lie detectors – how it all started

  5. Geoff Dunham

    @socialtechno @charlesarthur “lie detector by phone” background at (via liberalconspiracy)

  6. quack quack oops « Alternate Seat of TYR

    […] mention the fact that the licensee of Nemesysco’s poxy “software” in the UK is none other than Capita, the IT-service firm known to millions as Crapita, whose CEO Rod Aldridge was elevated to the […]

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.