Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Dr. Benway strikes again, with Venture Capital

OK. So we looked into voice stress analysis and the world telecoms infrastructure. And we concluded that proper VSA - the sort with the peer-reviewed scientific papers an stuff - was technically impossible. Recap; the original VSA research is based on a change in a signal in your voice between 8 and 12Hz, but even the highest-quality voice codecs used for public telephony filter out everything below 50Hz, so a VSA system based on - well - science couldn't possibly work.

But there was always the possibility that "Nemesysco" had hit on some kind of roaring king-hell breakthrough. Minitrue couldn't find a copy of the patent that covers their product; you might wonder why there wasn't a US patent if it's so great, or why every call-centre workflow system and high-end mobile phone in the world doesn't have it as a much-valued standard feature, or why Amir Liberman, the CEO of Nemesysco, isn't incredibly rich.

After all, he's been hawking it since at least 1998. His company was formed in early 2000, just a tad late for the joy of the .com boom; at the time they were marketing towards consumers and businesses. But, as the venture capital dried up, the stock exchange cursed everything to do with computers, and it looked like a whole world of vaguely technical young sheisters would have to get a job...something happened, and suddenly his product became "Israeli intelligence service technology" that would save you from terrorists.

There is no evidence that Tsahal or the intelligence services ever made use of it, but as reader Chris "Chris" Williams points, there is a certain mana attached to the Israeli military - link your product to them, and it gets just that bit badder. I tell you, it's the sunglasses.

So, let's cut to the chase. The patent is here, thanks to the Canadian government. The "claims" section described how it is meant to work - there's even an example implementation in Microsoft Visual Basic (you bastards). Here's how: it takes samples of speech and identifies "plateaus" - flat bits - and "thorns". Thorns are defined as:
A thorn is a notch-shaped feature. For example the term thorn may be defined as:
a) a sequence of 3 adjacent samples in which the first and third samples are both higher than the middle samples
b) a sequence of 3 adjacent samples in which the first and third are both lower than the middle samples

Now, all speech is roughly speaking a succession of sine waves; by definition it's going to fit this. Anyway, they take a control sample of speech, count the plateaus and thorns and compute the standard errors, then they ask the questions they want to test, and do the same thing. They then look at the difference between the values and compare them to reference values to tell if you're lying.

Where do these reference values come from? It is appreciated that all of the numerical values are merely examples and are typically application-dependent. So basically, the all-crucial message on the screen depends entirely on the sensitivity values you punch in to the thing; perhaps great if you're trying to bully some random Palestinian, but not so good if you need real information.

Hey, if they only knew Visual Basic and were willing to commit Software Crime, Harrow council could crank the reference values down to zero and deny EVERYBODY their housing benefit.

From this, he reckons he can determine:
Excitement Level: Each of us becomes excited (or depressed) from time to time. SENSE compares the presence of the Micro-High-frequencies of each sample to the basic profile to measure the excitement level in each vocal segment.

Confusion Level: Is your subject sure about what he or she is saying? SENSE technology measures and compares the tiny delays in your subject's voice to assess how certain he or she is.

Stress Level: Stress is physiologically defined as the body's reaction to a threat, either by fighting the threat, or by fleeing. However, during a spoken conversation neither option may be available. The conflict caused by this dissonance affects the micro-low-frequencies in the voice during speech.

Thinking Level: How much is your subject trying to find answers? Might he or she be "inventing" stories?

S.O.S: (Say Or Stop) - Is your subject hesitating to tell you something?

Concentration Level: Extreme concentration might indicate deception.

Anticipation Level: Is your subject anticipating your responses according to what he or she is telling you?

Embarrassment Level: Is your subject feeling comfortable, or does he feel some level of embarrassment regarding what he or she is saying?

Arousal Level: What triggers arousal in the subject? Is he or she interested in you? Aroused by certain visuals? This new detection can be used both for personal use for issues of romance, or professionally for therapy relating to sex-offenders.

Deep Emotions: What long-standing emotions does your subject experience? Is he or she "excited" or "uncertain" in general?

SENSE's "Deep" Technology: Is your subject thinking about a single topic when speaking, or are there several layers (i.e., background issues, something that may be bothering him or her, planning, etc.) SENSE technology can detect brain activity operating at a pre-conscious level.
He can apparently detect that all from a total of two measurements. Note also that there is no mention of Micro-High Frequencies in his patent claims; if they were particularly high, they would probably vanish in the band-pass filters above 3.4kHz....

I have collected these claims across his Web site; I wonder if Harrow council is aware that exactly the same technology is being marketed as a "Love Detector"? Or that another company has ripped off the patent, and he warns buyers that theirs won't produce the advertised 85% accuracy, even though it's the same patent? This is scienciness, not science. But then, the point is to scare the poor.

Update: See here


Sabryna said...
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Anonymous said...

You know, this is funny. You seem to did your research, yet come to strange conclusions. Who ever said that a whole product (even if patented) must reveal the whole technology or underlying know-how? Who said there must be only one patent? (In case on Liberman's patents, I know of at least two, and yes, the love-detector technology is in the other one). What surprises me over and over, is that the technology works even better on pre-recorded voice data, and technically, on voice bits the tested party never knew will be tested -so how is that supporting the “let’s scare the poor men”? LVA technology works, that’s a given. No government or serious corporate will make use of it without testing it, and apparently they use it - a lot. If it saves my money from going to fraudsters, I’m for it.

Nigel Sedgwick said...

I dispute Yorkshire Ranter's technical argument in his first paragraph here; it just is not that simple. See second comment on his first link for more detail.

The 'thorn/plateau' aspects of the patent can, in my view, be interpreted as a (not particularly wonderful) algorithm for determining the start and end points of each glottal epoch, or the short-term frequency of glottal excitation. I could go on but, as I agree with Yorkshire Ranter that the whole concept of voice-based lie detection is rather flawed (see link above), to say nothing of well-known within the speech technology community, and the basic algorithms are rather crude and so uninteresting (at least to me), I'm going to have a cup of tea instead.

Best regards

Alex said...

Who ever said that a whole product (even if patented) must reveal the whole technology or underlying know-how?

That's what "patent" means. Also, it's interesting how you make the same spelling mistakes Liberman does when he posts to MSDN.

Anonymous said...

Alex, no point to argue really, just read the patent law. Patents are expected to capture the "present situation" and best practice at the time they are submitted, no more... (and this was one was submitted some 10 years ago.) :)

guthrie said...

Anonymous, people might take you more seriously if you could do more than say "It must work, lots of companies use it".

Thats like saying "Moody's gave them a AAA rating, they must be good".

guthrie said...

Anonymous, people might take you more seriously if you could do more than say "It must work, lots of companies use it".

Thats like saying "Moody's gave them a AAA rating, they must be good".

Anonymous said...

Serious?! Me?! for God sake no... only I think that if I am to pay monthly/yearly or whatever fee on ongoing basis, I would make sure I am getting my money’s worth... It is not the same as "saying something is top class" or the other way around, if you see my point... Some times, I guess, the proof is in the pudding…
BTW- Liberman repeatedly states that there is no connection between the technology and the 8-15 Hz Lippold tremors. The patents show this is not the case, so I really think its time to let this story off the table too…

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