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Art by Clark Miller
Art by Clark Miller

Will Your Cheatin’ Heart Tell on You? As Americans Lose Trust in Each Other, They’re Turning to Tech to Detect Lies

From AI-enabled ocular motor detectors, to partner-tracking spyware, to mail-in infidelity tests, tech tools are filling the gaps in an age of distrust.

Art by Clark Miller
June 24, 2022 12:00 PM PDT

A few months ago, inside a soundproof room attached to his office, Dennis Cates, a retired police officer and founder of Mid Valley Polygraph in Porterville, Calif., cleared his throat and directed his client to answer an awkward question.

“Have you ever had sex with your husband’s brother?”

“No,” the client answered, clicking false on the screen in front of her.

Unfortunately, her pupil dilation, blink rate and involuntary eye movements, as captured by an infrared camera logging 60 data points per second, per eye, told another story. Fifteen minutes later, EyeDetect, the artificial intelligence–powered lie detection program licensed by Cates, spit out a score.

“You’ve failed the test,” Cates informed the woman.

They exchanged glances—her husband awaited the results in Cates’ office.

“Do you want me to tell him, or do you want to?”

Cates always checks in with his test subjects at this point, as disclosures have occasionally turned violent. In this case the client opted for Cates to deliver the bad news. He ushered the couple into his office, and gently explained the test’s findings. “I told him that the test isn't 100% accurate”—EyeDetect claims an accuracy rate of 86% to 88%—“but her physiology is showing signs of deception,” Cates recounted. The husband blinked, stood up and shook the ex-cop’s hand. “Thank you,” he said, and exited. His wife ran after him, plaintively calling his name.

EyeDetect tests are the core product of Converus, a Utah-based company that has raised $11.67 million from investors including Mark Cuban, Album VC, Alta Ventures and Kickstart Fund, according to PitchBook. Spun out of lab work by University of Utah researchers, EyeDetect launched in 2014 with an initial focus on curbing corruption in Latin America, said Converus CEO Todd Mickelsen. A soft-spoken white man in his mid-50s, whose email sign-off is “truthfully,” Mickelsen has more recently expanded the company’s reach into infidelity testing, employment screenings, and partnerships with law enforcement and immigration agencies, which use it to vet refugees and monitor registered sex offenders.

Today, Converus is a global brand, with 600-plus clients spread across 60 countries, including Uber Mexico, which has used EyeDetect for background checks on drivers, and Peruvian diamond mining companies, which screen workers at the end of their shifts to dissuade theft. More than 50 U.S. police and fire departments use EyeDetect tests, including the Idaho State Police, the Northwest Fire District in Tuscon, Ariz., and the Wyoming Highway Patrol. A perusal of the company’s website shows there’s no end to potential use cases: Tests could replace a urinalysis for drunk driving or weed out abusive clergy.

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