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Meet the Virtual Customs Agent

Avatar will expedite pre-approved travelers crossing the border
By Liam Carnahan,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 7, 2012 5:43 PM CDT

(Newser) – It may seem like something out of Minority Report, but the US Customs and Border Patrol's newest agent is expected to make life easier for those who regularly cross the border between Nogales, Arizona, and Mexico. The nameless agent is a computer avatar, but he's bilingual, able to analyze voice patterns, and should allow human agents to focus on catching drug smugglers and criminals crossing the border, reports Scientific American. The agent will help screen travelers in the Trusted Traveler program, which allows commuters who regularly cross the border to pass through customs faster.

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Those enrolling in the program voluntarily go through a criminal background check, and now, an interview with the avatar agent. They'll still have to meet with a human agent before they're approved, but the virtual interviewer will be able to flag potential issues with the applicant. His software can detect pauses and changes in inflection that might raise red flags. The avatar is an improvement over previous technology installed by the University of Arizona. Before, the software was simply an automated voice, but researchers say adding a human likeness has made the process more approachable. In tests, some people even referred to the agent as "sir." (Read more Customs and Border Protection stories.)

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