Today we travel to a future without lies. What would it be like if we all wore accurate lie detectors around all the time?
In this episode we talk about when children learn to lie, the different social functions of lying, and what might happen if we couldn’t ever fib. How would negotiations be different? How would we make small talk? Could we create art or music? All that and more in this week’s future.
This week’s show features four experts in the different facets of deception. Patti Wood is an expert in detecting non-verbal cues. She told me about her work, and the ways she uses body language to try and tell if someone is lying. Maria Konnikova is a journalist and the author of a book called The Confidence Game, all about con artists and people who are really good at lying. She says that while many of the people her book is about would have been thwarted, there would be serious downsides to not being able to lie to one another. Michael Lewis has studied lying and childhood development for over fifty years, and he says that children learn really early on that lying is something they should be doing. And Andrea Kupfer Schneider is a professor of ethics and dispute resolution at Marquette University Law School. She says that without the ability to lie, negotiations would actually be way better.
Right now there are tons of different technologies and methods that try to detect lying, which range from imperfect to totally bogus. According to the American Psychological Association polygraph tests, the lie detector setup you see in movies and TV all the time, don’t accurately tell if someone is lying. There’s also a device called a voice stress analyzer — what it does is listen to your voice and try to detect signs of stress, which suggests that you might not be telling the truth. But according to a study done by the National Institute of Justice, voice stress analyzers are often no better than chance at detecting lies. Of course, that hasn’t stopped some places from using them surreptitiously during phone interviews.
There are also all kinds of drugs that attempt to make people tell the truth. These are staples of movies and television shows, but like most things they don't work as well as they do on TV.
If you’re interested in the history of lie detectors, check out this book by Ken Alder, which explores not just who invented the polygraph, but the long history of our obsession with finding a biological connection to “the truth.” And if you’re interested in a movie about a world without lies, try The Invention of Lying.
Flash Forward is produced by me, Rose Eveleth, and is part of the Boing Boing podcast family. The intro music is by Asura and the outtro music is by Broke for Free. The episode art is by Matt Lubchansky.
This week’s future voices were provided by Sarah Werner, Brent Rose, Kirstin Butler, Pablo Meier, Eddie Guimont, Guillermo Herrera, Justin Cameron and Jess Zimmerman, who also suggested this future to us, so thanks Jess! If you want to be a voice in the future you can do that, it’s one of the rewards we have for becoming a Patron of the show on Patreon.
If you want to suggest a future we should take on, send us a note on Twitter, Facebook or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We love hearing your ideas! And if you think you’ve spotted one of the little references I’ve hidden in the episode, email us there too. If you’re right, I’ll send you something cool.
And, as always, if you like the show please head to iTunes and leave us a nice review or just tell your friends about us. Those things really do help.
See you next week for a new future!
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