When John Larson and Leonard Keeler developed and refined polygraph instrumentation in the 1920s and 1930s, they probably had no idea of how far the technology would advance. Larson passed away in 1965, and Keeler in 1949, with both gentlemen failing to see the introduction of computerized systems into the instruments they created.

Until the early 1990s, the polygraph machine was an electrical, mechanical device relying on needles to draw chats on paper, printing them out for the examiner. It’s a far cry from the computerized systems in the market today, and the advancement of polygraph technology in the last 25 years is dazzling.

If we compare the systems in use between the 1930s and the 1990s to those used today, they are stark differences, with the instrumentation and devices used in exams being almost unrecognizable.

Today’s computerized polygraph devices are a true technological achievement. In this post, we’ll look at the impact computers and software had on the polygraph industry and the future of this remarkable machine.


The Evolution of the Lie Detector Test

When John Larson and Leonard Keeler built and refined the first polygraph machines, they were amazing devices offering law enforcement an edge over criminals in the battle for justice. The polygraph helped convict tens of thousands of criminals that would have otherwise escaped incarceration for their crimes.

The first devices invented by Larson were crude by today’s standards. They featured simple operations, measuring changes in the examinee’s blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. Keeler added the features of electrical epidermal monitoring and analysis of sweat gland activity, further improving the device’s accuracy in examinations.

Keeler’s device stood the test of time for 60+ years, outlasting his own life. The Keeler polygraph involved using needles to produce charts that visualize the changes in the physiological responses of examinees during the exam.

The trained examiner would look at the lines drawn by the device on paper, identifying deception in its readouts. While the introduction of the polygraph was revolutionary in criminal justice, the computer age of the 1990s sparked a shift to digital systems that would achieve far better accuracy in test results than Larson or Keeler could have ever imagined.


The Introduction of Software in Polygraph Technology

The digital era in polygraph instrumentation and devices started in the late 1980s. In 1989, statisticians John C. Harris and Dr. Dale E. Olsen formed a collaborative effort between Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, based in Maryland, and Axciton to develop the “Polyscore” system.

Polyscore was the first algorithmically programmed polygraph software designed to outperform the electrical and mechanical devices of the past. The industry jumped on the bandwagon after the initial success of Polyscore.

Many firms started the development process of producing software-driven systems, marking the beginning of the digital evolution of the polygraph. Some of the early software developed by leading companies included “Identify,’ “Vhitestar,” and OSS 2 and OSS 3.

Polyscore continued to dominate the market in the early days. Its “Polyscore 3.0 Polygraph Software” featured in more than 600 exams, resulting in cases where 303 examinees were non-deceptive, and 321  were classified as deceptive.

However, the first company to make a real breakthrough in the polygraph space was Stoelting. Its algorithm rose to the top of the heap, released in 1992. Since then, the industry has experienced a huge shift, with digital systems beginning to replace the then-antiquated electrical and mechanical devices from the Keeler era.


Inaccuracies and Controversy of the Lie Detector Test in History

While the early Keeler devices were incredible machines, they weren’t without controversy. As the polygraph entered the private sector for use in employee and candidate testing and screening, the industry experienced severe backlash.

The controversy began with John E. Reid, an innovator in the use of the polygraph questioning procedure in criminal cases. Instead of looking to change the device, Reid decided his approach was to enhance and refine the questioning procedure used in polygraph exams.

His methods proved remarkably effective at increasing criminal convictions in law enforcement. As a result, he became widely known as the father of the polygraph questioning process. However, Reid’s controversial and somewhat unethical lines of questioning led to a huge bungle.

Reid used his technique when questioning Darrel Parker in a case involving the murder of Parker’s spouse. The interrogation saw Parker admit to the crime, only to recant his statement the following day. As a result, the use of polygraph questioning techniques was brought into question.

Despite the controversy, the Reid Technique was widely adopted by law enforcement after its general release in 1962. Reid claimed the technique was up to 90% accurate in coercing confessions from suspects.

However, it also led to many wrongful convictions due to its persuasive impact on the polygraph process. As the polygraph and Reid’s questioning methods entered the private sector, many employees stated they were wrongfully assessed, with the polygraph producing inaccurate results.

With more complaints about the polygraphs use in the private sector on the rise, President Ronald Reagan signed “The Employee Polygraph Protection Act” into power in 1988. The legislation’s goal was to prevent employers from using polygraph results in the hiring and employment sectors of the economy.

The inaccuracies of the polygraph machine and Reid’s questioning techniques were largely to blame for the introduction of the EPPA. Experts climbed on the bandwagon to slate the polygraph, claiming it was only 60% to 70% accurate in its results.


The Advantages of Software in Polygraphy

The introduction of software to polygraph technology changed the game for the industry. The polygraph device increased its accuracy as software progressed and computer tech advanced. The release of “Polyscore 5.1” in 2003 showed a 93% accuracy in detecting deception in polygraph exams.

Despite the vast improvement software brought to the polygraph industry, the EPPA remains in place today, some 35 years after its introduction of the EPPA in 1988. As a result, employers must comply with its guidelines and how they implement polygraph policies in the workplace.

However, the industry continued to march into the digital age of polygraph technology. Many companies started developing polygraph software, seeing the accuracy and efficacy of polygraph exams climb to all-time highs.


Polygraph Software – Leaders in the Space

There are several companies offering polygraph software solutions to the industry. OF these, four companies stand head-and-shoulders above the rest as the leaders in the space. Let’s outline a brief introduction to each organization.


Axciton Systems

As mentioned, Axciton Systems and John Hopkins University were the first to bring polygraph software to market with their introduction of Polyscore. Over the last 35 years, Axciton Systems went on to develop several updates to Polyscore, and they remain an industry leader, trusted by thousands of polygraph companies.

Axciton’s modern algorithms offer outstanding accuracy, with its latest programs being “White Devagus-Despike” and “White Standard.” Its software is used in the field in both private and public sector applications.


Lafayette Instrument

Widely regarded as the leader in Polygraph solutions, Lafayette Instrument Co. has the biggest market share. The company acquired another giant in the space, Limestone Technologies, in 2022, giving it the biggest footprint in the industry.

Lafayette Instrument Company manufactures and develops polygraph instrumentation and software for government agencies, private examiners, and military organizations worldwide. The company intends to release its revolutionary “LXEdge” range of software and products in 2023.


Limestone Technologies Inc

Limestone Technologies was an industry leader in polygraph technology, with a rapidly expanding market share. Its success saw it become the acquisition target of Lafayette in 2022, integrating its range of “Polygraph Pro” software into the Lafayette range.

The “Polygraph Professional Suite Version 3.0” promises examiners exceptional accuracy and efficacy in their examination processes and is a trusted brand in the space.


Stoelting Company

Stoelting was one of the first companies, alongside Axciton Systems, to release polygraph software to the market. Its first offering appeared in 1992, and the company grew its reputation as an industry leader over the last three decades.

Today, Stoelting offers examiners its “CPSpro” software, recommended as the benchmark “gold standard” in polygraph software technology. Users get access to cutting-edge algorithms, a range of user-friendly features, and incredible accuracy, making it one of the best manufacturing brands on the market.


Polygraph Software – Streamlining the Polygraph Testing Process

The use of software in polygraph exams changed everything from examiner training to its use in the private and public sectors. The examiner now has the ability to record the polygraph session in real-time and review the results later, allowing them to make better decisions on examinee deception.

The industry landscape has seen huge changes in the last 35 years since the inception of software tools, and it continues to progress rapidly. The software allows better examiner training and improved exam results. Today, software enjoys a 97% accuracy rate, far beyond what was capable with the older Keeler-type systems.

The introduction of polygraph software streamlined the polygraph exam process, making it easier for examiners to carry out their duties and analyze data. It also continues to advance, removing inaccuracies while improving efficiencies related to uncovering deception.


How Will AI Impact the Use of Polygraph Technology?

The introduction of computerized technology and software certainly changed the polygraph industry forever. While software provided a huge leap for the polygraph space, the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its introduction to polygraph technology present a new era, far exceeding the potential of software’s impact on the industry.

2022 saw the introduction of “Chat GPT,” an information-based language AI model, catching the world’s attention to the possibilities that exist with the technology. The public first learned of AI in the 1990s, as the first software programs were introduced in polygraphy. However, much like the start of the software era, no one had any idea of the impact this tech would have on the world.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the EU and Canada authorities were the first to introduce AI-powered polygraph systems for military and public-sector use. Known as “AVATAR” (Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time), this AI-based polygraph technology was developed by researchers from the University of Arizona and San Diego State University.

The first application of AVATAR was with the interactive video terminal at border crossings, asking immigrants questions as they started the immigration process or visited the country. If AVATAR suspected deception during the questioning process, it would refer the immigrant to human screening for further investigation.

According to AVATAR users, the system evaluates examinees by analyzing changes in voice, eye movement, posture, and gestures to determine if the interviewee is deceptive. Apparently, the system can even detect the use of countermeasures, such as the examinee curling their toes.

According to its developers, AVATAR has a 60% to 75% success rate, peaking at as much as 80%, detecting deceptive behavior, dramatically reducing the time border agents spend analyzing immigrants. Its use conserves border patrol resources, allowing for improvement in operational efficiencies.

Many other collaborations between governments and universities are working on AI-powered polygraph systems similar to the AVATAR. It’s mind-bending to see it progress so rapidly and to think of the future applications and influence AI-based polygraph tech will have in the future.


Ethical and Legal Considerations for Software and AI in Polygraph

While AVATAR and other AI-powered systems are undoubtedly the future of the polygraph space, it brings into question the ethical and legal considerations of the technology. For instance, there is a wide body of proof online showing the political bias of ChatGPT.

We can imagine that the same flaws may appear in AI-powered polygraph technology. For instance, the tech could favor one ethnicity over another in its programming. These potential flaws could damage the reputation of the tech in the industry, much like the impact of the Reid Technique and its application in the 1950s and 1960s.

Still, it’s obvious that this is the direction in which the industry is moving in the coming years. We can expect that by 2030, if not sooner, AI-based polygraph systems will become the new wave of technology adopted by the industry.


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