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Culture on Demand: Trust, Lies and Audiotape
The truth is out there. And a new device will help you find it

November 17, 2000
Web posted at 9:30 p.m. Hong Kong time, 8:30 a.m. EDT

Ticked off at Asia Buzz? Turned on? Talk back to TIME
"The check is in the mail." "We loved your script." "I never slept with that intern." We've all heard these one-liners, and most of us have told a few in our day to protect, deceive or escape any variety of situations. But now it seems even the art of deception is about to be surrendered to the steamroller of technology.


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The story behind today's news from the editors of Asiaweek

On the market, in a variety of local language kits, are versions of the "Truster," a simple lie-detector test that plugs into your phone and computer to determine if the person on the other end of the line is telling the truth.

The device works by analyzing the octaves of a speaker, noting fibs and fallacies in real time, as and when they occur. It seems that telling lies results in more than a cold sweat -- it also increases the blood in the vocal cords, opening them and lowering one's voice by a barely perceptible notch. Impossible to hear with the average ear, the octave change is picked up by the machine, resulting in fairly accurate readings of who is being naughty and who is nice.

This, of course, has profound implications on mankind's ability to dodge unpalatable questions. Aside from the various criminal and infidelity issues such a device will undoubtedly work to correct, I can see a day coming where the world becomes a little more truthful than any of us dare imagine...

As such, there are a few things I hope no one -- armed with this evil contraption -- ever asks me over the phone. Here are others:

"Do you think I'm fat?" -- The classic sigh of every man as his partner dresses for that ubiquitous evening cocktail event is unlikely to be simply dismissed with this handy little device in tow. Try sarcasm: just reply that she looks like an elephant on pins and hope that she thinks you're kidding.

"Is your dotcom going to meet earnings for the fourth quarter?" -- Chief Financial Officers and Communications Directors everywhere will be cringing on a more regular basis, as the ability to massage the numbers with that financial report becomes even more difficult. With the Nikkei, Hang Seng, FTSE and Straits Times hanging in the balance, investors will know the real deal before the numbers even close.

At end of the day I suppose we should applaud these innovations in technology. I for one would be glad to know that the check is in the mail (really!) and that my wife or girlfriend isn't cheating on me. I'm just not so sure we really want to know everything. The truth is out there. Maybe we should leave it there.

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