Let’s Get All Riled Up About Google’s Lie-Detecting Neck Tattoo 

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Nov. 12 2013 2:26 PM

Let’s Get All Riled Up About Google’s Lie-Detecting Neck Tattoo 

161706802
This is not what a Google lie-detecting neck tattoo would look like. Plus, it wouldn't require needles.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Did you hear? The Register reported late last week that Google wants to hold us all down and tattoo electronic microphones on our necks. Even better, the tattoos will double as lie detectors! Just wait until the Scroogled guys get a hold of this one.

In reality, all the hubbub refers to a patent filed last year by Google’s Motorola Mobility division for something called an electronic skin tattoo. I’m not sure why they call it a tattoo, because it’s really just an adhesive interface, or a chip that could be embedded in a collar or neckband. (Good news, children of the ’90s—looks like chokers are coming back!)

Advertisement

According to the patent application, the microphone tab would enable better hands-free, wireless communication in a crowd—which actually makes a lot of sense for security personnel, spies, or event planners.

What makes less sense is Section 0027 of the patent application, which mentions the optional “galvanic skin response detector.” By detecting skin resistance (read: sweat), Google’s skin tattoo may be able to determine whether its wearer is “nervous or engaging in speaking falsehoods.” Since I can’t imagine why the Sam Hill someone would opt to wear such incriminating technology, I think we have to assume the tattoo would either be applied clandestinely or against the wearer’s will. Let’s not even get into the dubious quality of truth-telling based on “skin resistance” alone.    

As Alexis Madrigal points out at the Atlantic, this is just a patent, and patents rarely make it all the way to becoming products. (If this weren’t true, we’d obviously all be wearing Gerbil Vests.) Furthermore, if recent revelations about tech patents and patent trolls have taught us anything, companies submit, stockpile, and sell patents for numerous reasons that don’t directly result in application. Maybe Motorola’s only really interested in part of the patent—like the technology that can tether voice commands to smart phones, tablets, or game consoles (Section 0013). Or maybe it’s interested in streamlined emergency response technology (Section 0033). Or quite likely, they’re developing something vital to better communication that’s so boring, people like me won’t even notice it in the 4,000-word document.

One thing’s for sure, this is unlikely to help Google’s ongoing issues with privacy and consumer trust. I mean, say what you will about Apple, but a symphony and a Jeff Daniels voice-over beats poorly named patents for Orwellian neck tattoos any day.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Jason Bittel serves up science for picky eaters on his website, BittelMeThis.com. He lives in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 16 2014 2:35 PM Germany’s Nationwide Ban on Uber Lasted All of Two Weeks
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 16 2014 12:15 PM “Human Life Is Frightfully Cheap”: A 1900 Petition to Make Lynching a Federal Offense
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 16 2014 1:39 PM The Case of the Missing Cerebellum How did a Chinese woman live 24 years missing part of her brain?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 8:41 PM You’re Cut, Adrian Peterson Why fantasy football owners should release the Minnesota Vikings star.