The Latest In Junk Science?

In the late 1800s and early 1900s there was a “science” which supporters claimed would revolutionize how the criminal justice system would approach deciding what to do: phrenology. The claim was that, by having your head examined by a phrenologist who would look at the shape and size of the cranium, there would be a reliable  indication of character and mental abilities. It is hard to find a phrenologist these days. One of the last ones was in Minneapolis. But his instrument was in a Museum of Quackery. Now there’s a thing called “vocal risk assessment” which purports to be able to determine a person’s culpability—level of risk, they call it—by the sound of their voice.

From The Intercept:

Is it possible to tell whether someone is a criminal just from looking at their face or listening to the sound of their voice? The idea may seem ludicrous, like something out of science fiction — Big Brother in “1984” detects any unconscious look “that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality” — and yet, some companies have recently begun to answer this question in the affirmative. AC Global Risk, a startup founded in 2016, claims to be able to determine your level of “risk” as an employee or an asylum-seeker based not on what you say, but how you say it.

The California-based company offers an automated screening system known as a Remote Risk Assessment, or RRA. Here’s how it works: Clients of AC Global Risk help develop automated, yes-or-no interview questions. The group of people selected for a given screening then answer these simple questions in their native language during a 10-minute interview that can be conducted over the phone. The RRA then measures the characteristics of their voice to produce an evaluation report that scores each individual on a spectrum from low to high risk. CEO Alex Martin has said that the company’s proprietary risk analysis can “forever change for the better how human risk is measured.”

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