Wednesday 26 March 2014

The magic of modern public administration

Here's a new TLA for you (three-letter acronym) – "VRA".

"VRA" is voice risk analysis. VRA software listens in on phone calls and tells you whether someone is lying.

If you'll believe that, you'll believe anything.

As the Guardian tell us:
Voice risk analysis has been mired in controversy since scientists raised doubts over the technology soon after it reached the market. In 2007 two Swedish researchers, Anders Eriksson and Francisco Lacerda, published their own analysis of VRA in the International Journal of Speech, Language and Law. They found no scientific evidence to support claims for the device made by the manufacturer.

Lacerda, head of linguistics at Stockholm University, told the Guardian that VRA "does nothing. That is the short answer. There's no scientific basis for this method. From the output it generates this analysis is closer to astrology than science. There was very good work done by the DWP [the Department for Work and Pensions] in the UK showing it did not work ...".
So what?

Here in the UK you get a 25 percent discount on your Council Tax if you live on your own. Some people lie. DWP don't think VRA will identify them. Neither do Messrs Eriksson and Lacerda. Nor, it can safely be asserted, do DMossEsq's millions of readers.

But according to the Guardian article at least 24 local authorities in the UK do believe in magic. Redcar, for example, Middlesbrough, West Dorset and Wycombe among them. "South Oxfordshire ... says that [their VRA] system helped reduce the number of people claiming the single person discount by 3% ...".

Their system is supplied by one of the UK's big government contractors, Capita, who say that: "The technology was never used in isolation. It is only used in cases which are deemed 'high risk', when earlier stages of the review have indicated that more than one person may be living at the property".

The Local Government Association say that: "No one is going to be prosecuted for benefit fraud on the result of voice analysis tests alone".

If VRA doesn't identify suspected fraudsters in the first place and it doesn't provide sufficient evidence to prosecute them, then its contribution to South Oxfordshire's 3 percent reduction is, as Lacerda says, to use the technical term, "nothing". Or as False Economy, a trade union-funded campaign group, put it: "Capita is a firm with a long rap sheet of expensive failure. Neither they nor their technological snake oil should be trusted".

"Astrology"? "Snake oil"? Remind you of anything? The belief in the efficacy of biometrics is akin to the belief in astrologyPublic administration and the McCormick spectrum?

Mass consumer biometrics is a stage prop in the security theatre that the authorities produce and VRA performs, by analogy, in anti-fraud theatre. It may look modern. Technology may impress some people. The authorities may seem to be "doing something". But they're not. Apart from wasting our money.


Updated 1.4.14
Truth or lie - trust your instinct, says research

We are better at identifying liars when we rely on initial responses rather than thinking about it, say psychologists.

Generally we are poor at spotting liars - managing only slightly better than flipping a coin.

But our success rate rises when we harness the unconscious mind, according to a report in Psychological Science ...

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