Forget the tall tales – Israeli lie detector keeps Skype users honest

Zvi Marom, founder and CEO of BATM Advanced Communications just wants to have a bit of fun. That’s why the company’s wholly owned subsidiary, KishKish, has just released a lie detector that can be used as an add-on to Internet …

Zvi Marom, founder and CEO of BATM Advanced Communications just wants to have a bit of fun. That’s why the company’s wholly owned subsidiary, KishKish, has just released a lie detector that can be used as an add-on to Internet phone service Skype – one of many new applications for what is fast becoming one of today’s most popular methods of communication.

“You’ve got to have a bit of fun in the workplace,” Marom told ISRAEL21c. “It can’t be technology, technology, technology all the time. We’re not doing this because we want to make zillions of dollars, we are doing it because it’s great fun.”

The KishKish lie detector, which was released earlier this month, has already sparked a great deal of interest. In the short time the software has been available, the company’s server has crashed six times.

“That means we have several hundreds of thousands of users,” says Marom, though he adds that the company is not trying to measure the number of users at present, but prefers instead to open a dialogue with as many users as possible to find out what they think of the product.

The lie detector can be downloaded free either from Skype or from two-year-old KishKish. It monitors in real time the stress levels in a speaker’s voice and alerts users when these levels start to rise. Higher sound frequencies are a telltale sign that someone is being dishonest, according to BATM.

The detector is activated whenever a Skype call is placed. To avoid legal problems, the program automatically informs the other person that the call is being monitored by a lie detector.
Before giving a reading, the software calibrates for 10 seconds to the general stress levels of the speaker. A needle meter moves up and down to show stress levels, and an indicator light turns from green to red, when stress levels are high.

Marom came up with the idea of a lie detector less than a year ago after having a run in with someone he felt was lying to him.

“It was a bad experience and I felt the person was not really telling the truth but I had no way of checking it,” he said. “The problem with Western culture is that when people tell you something, they don’t always mean it.”

Frustrated, he suggested that a couple of members of his R&D team work on the idea. The company was in a good position to do so. BATM, which was founded in 1992 and is now traded on the FTSE exchange, is a specialist is broadband data and telecommunications solutions geared towards the needs of corporate enterprises and telecom networks. The company, which has subsidiaries in the US, France, Germany, and the UK, excels in the design and manufacture of innovative high-performance communications equipment.

“We understand how broad band works, and what carries the voice,” explains Marom. “We can measure lots of parameters of the voice that normally no-one else can measure. We can measure tension, change in amplitude, and density of voice.”

Armed with this information, the company only had to develop a system to manage these parameters, and to present them effectively to users.

Marom likens the system to a polygraph used by forensic experts, which measures blood pressure, sweat, and heart rate. “The voice has all these parameters too, but there is no need to test blood pressure and heart rate,” he says. “We don’t try to understand what we are hearing, we are not listening to you, we are just measuring your body language.”

Voice stress analysis (VSA), is not new. The use of it as a lie detector first became popular in the late 1970s and 80s, and today it is used by law enforcement agencies and military bodies all over the world. This is the first time, however, the technology has been widely available to the general population.

According to Marom, the strength of the KishKish lie detector is that it can handle cultural differences.

“Every culture is different. Finnish guys are very quiet for example, while Mediterranean ones are much noisier. These differences will not affect the detector, however, because we compare the user to himself. We sample how a person talks, and then measure deviations in this pattern,” says Marom.

The software was tested by insurance companies. “They were extremely satisfied with the results which showed a 95-98 percent accuracy rate,” says Marom.

BATM has been working with Skype, which boasts between 130 to 150 million users worldwide, for over two years. It has developed a number of add-ons to enhance the Skype experience including an answering machine, contacts book and SMS service. Recently the company became a premium partner for Skype. The lie detector is the first BATM software to be available on Skype’s web site.

At present the lie detector software is being offered by Skype free of charge, and will continue to be free for the next three months.

“We are in an experimental period at the moment,” explains Marom. “We want to see how the software works and how people respond to it. If they are happy with the experience they will continue. After that we will decide if we want the software to remain free of charge, or whether we will charge a nominal fee.”

“This is a really neat application, and the kind of thing we want to see more of,” said Paul Amery, director of the Skype Developer Program, in a company release. “The Kishkish team has managed perfectly to integrate this unique application to meet the needs of our clients. Lie Detector is the latest in a variety of products in our premium add-on program (extras for Skype) which greatly enhance the Skype communication experience.”

Aside from the lie detector, Marom says BATM’s technology can also be used to measure other parameters – like excitement. The company is now working on a new software for Skype called the Love-o-meter, which can detect emotional interest levels.

“In many cultures people are very shy, and don’t say what they feel, but the person on the other end wants to know whether they are interested in them or not,” says Marom, who is currently testing out the software on his 18-year-old daughter and her friends.

The company has also developed a small modem that enables users to call Skype from their mobile phones, avoiding all roaming charges.

“We developed this software because we could,” say Marom. “It’s not because it’s part of our business plan, we are just having fun with technology. People in the company come with ideas, some are nice, some are idiotic. We debate them and if we like them we do them.

“I see my responsibility as a manager of a technology and science company not to look through the keyhole, but to try to deal with the broad aspect of things.”

So will the lie detector stop people telling tales?

“I don’t expect people to stop lying, but if the option is there to check the truth, maybe they will think twice before they say all sorts of things,” says Marom.

About Nicky Blackburn

Editor and Israel Director, Nicky Blackburn has worked extensively as a journalist and editor both in Britain and Israel for a range of national and international publications including The Cambridge Evening News, London News, Travel Weekly, Israel High Tech Investor, and The Times of London. She was the Associate Editor at LINK Israel’s Business and Technology Magazine, and the High-Tech Correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.