Robots might be the next frontier. Especially for Canadian Border Services who are testing a new system called “Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real Time” or AVATAR. The purpose behind this testing is to come up with a way to determine if someone is telling the truth when they cross the border. The robots will replace the need for a human to analyze a person’s behaviour. Human’s make mistakes. That’s literally what we consider “human nature”, so why robots? Robots may be strong terminology here, as they compare AVATAR to a grocery store kiosk or an airport check-in. Behind the scenes, there will be a human verifying all the data obtained.
But what are we dealing with here? Currently, when you arrive at the Canadian border from the United States, you are asked a series of questions. Each border crossing is a bit different, and the questions are also different. As a Canadian citizen, I find the Canadian border agents much friendlier than the Americans. Sorry American friends – its just a fact! So what impact will this make? If you’re lying, the AVATAR will know. allegedly. Even with the low Canadian dollar, cross border shopping is still very prevalent. Will this force people to be more honest about their purchases? Or, will it mean less cross-border shopping for Canadians? My guess is the latter. As an avid supporter of the American economy, I’m less likely to go over just for the day to do some shopping if I think I’m going to be faced with a robot on my way home.
As mentioned, the AVATAR doesn’t make the final decision. You are subject to further questions and possible vehicle search if the fancy robot thinks you’re lying. I’d like to point out that any time I cross the border, I’m nervous. Regardless. Border agents often ask seemingly odd questions. How do you know the people you are traveling with? That’s kind of a subjective question, don’t you think? While I have legitimate answers for these questions, it always makes me on alert to provide an adequate response. Thus making me appear nervous. Also, some border agents allow you to bend the rules a bit. Spending $75 when the limit is $50. Will the AVATAR let this slide? Likely not, as the Canadian Government can tax you on the spending over the limit. With a system like AVATAR, they’re going to need more money to pay for it.
All my criticisms aside – where else will we start to see these robots? Will the police start using them? Or other law enforcement agencies? Or will we see a change in why they’re being used? Instead of telling if someone is lying, will they be able to monitor your ability to perform under pressure? Is this the next iteration of “big brother”? (I’m referring to the novel 1984, and not the popular reality TV show). I’m not trying to blow this out of proportion, but I am wondering where this will take us, and for what purpose? I also don’t want to downplay the potential value that the AVATAR could have as security is always a concern. My concern, however, is whether or not this is locking our borders down further, which could have economic impacts on both sides.