The Dangerous Junk Science of Vocal Risk Assessment
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.”