back to article Dodgy audio connections conceal more than just words

Researchers at BT, working with UCL, have been looking at voices to see what's stopping the machines from working out how you feel as well as what you're saying. Today's call centres routinely use stress analysis to see if callers are lying, despite the fact that such systems generally don't work, but up at BT's Adastral Park …


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  1. Martin

    Oh, ffs...

    I'm all in favour of trying to identify fraud, but honestly....

    Why stop there? Why not insist we all write our claim forms by hand and employ graphologists? Or get us to send in photos of our heads and employ phrenologists?

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Oh, ffs...

      On the other hand I bet you'd like it if your premiums dropped because they could avoid paying out to people claiming their 60" LED TV got nicked.

      1. jubtastic1

        Re: Oh, ffs...

        Premiums dropped? are you new to this planet?

        Premiums will of course go up, to pay for all the expensive technical equipment the poor insureers need to purchase and maintain in their ongoing fight against the lowlife scum that screw it up for everybody, and of course for the new executive cars, Jet and racehorses.

        1. blcollier

          Re: Oh, ffs...

          So it's OK to commit a little fraud here and there? Ever-so-"slightly" jacking up the price of something that you bought 10 years ago, or claiming that your wallet had more cash in it than it actually did? Or "dropping" your (probably already broken) laptop/TV/computer/whatever down the stairs? Claiming that your kids dropped your (again, probably already broken) phone in the toilet while they were playing?

          And I always thought that voice-stress-testing-at-insurance-companies thing was bunk anyway - one of things that you always hear about but can never actually confirm. Any fraud analyst worth his salt should be able to spot inaccuracies and inconsistencies with someone's claimed version of events. Failing that, you always have a stand-by: it's up to the customer to prove it, not for the ins. co. to disprove it.

          1. Martin

            blcollier - so it's OK to commit a little fraud...?

            I didn't say that, or even imply it.

            Nor, as far as I can see, did anyone who replied to my post.

            So what are you referring to?

            1. blcollier

              Re: blcollier - so it's OK to commit a little fraud...?

              "Premiums dropped? are you new to this planet?

              Premiums will of course go up, to pay for all the expensive technical equipment the poor insureers need to purchase and maintain in their ongoing fight against the lowlife scum that screw it up for everybody, and of course for the new executive cars, Jet and racehorses."

              It ain't all about the zek'tiv bonuses. The reason that so much money is spent on anti-fraud stuff is because of the reasons I outlined in my post. Joe Average claiming that his TV cost him £500 when he knows full well that it only cost £400 is still fraud. So is claiming that the replacement TV he's offered isn't as good as his old one, simply because he doesn't like the one being offered. Of course you can never prove that, so people very often get away with it. Hence the premiums go up to take into account the increased cost of incidents such as accidental damage and theft.

              Working on home insurance claims was an extremely enlightening experience. I don't want to come off as cynical, but you'd be surprised at just how dishonest the average person can be - especially when dealing with insurance companies, and particularly insurance companies that are owned by banks.

  2. Andrew Baines Silver badge

    Another reason to use VOIP for outgoing calls. Just need to changed the codec to the really low quality hissy one.

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      change the codec to the really low quality hissy one.

      Most of the time, my phone company does that for me..

  3. Danny 14 Silver badge


    all my calls are usually made with the 5 and 3 year old battering each other in the background. Either that or the 8 year old is playing something loud on the ipad. On this system they would probably think im not even who I say I am or my policy number is not the one connected to my name etc. Plus my blood starts to boil when you get put on hold and asked the same questions again, then passed to someone else who asks you again, of course you will get stress accents.

    1. NomNomNom

      Re: heh

      "Plus my blood starts to boil when you get put on hold and asked the same questions again, then passed to someone else who asks you again, of course you will get stress accents."

      You sure you want to risk something like this?

      operator #1: "hello can I take your name?"

      crook: "I need to talk specifically to <operator #2>, can you transfer me?"

      operator #1: "sure one moment"

      operator #2: "hello can I take your name?"

      crook: "yes I am Danny 14, why do I keep getting transferred?"

      operator #2: "I am going to need to ask you some security questions"

      crook: "*angrily* but I already did all that with the last guy before I was transferred to you!"

      operator #2: "Oh okay then, what can I do for you today Danny 14?"

  4. Pete 2

    Consumers have an easy way to spot liars

    It's not hard for someone to tell if a cold-calling telesales person is lying. Just as soon as they say

    "Hello Zir, my name is ........ William" you know you're on a loser. If the very first sentence out of their mouths is such an obvious untruth, what's the point in believing, or even listening to, anything else they say after that?

  5. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    I can see exactly why they want this.

    It's to be sure they have aggravated you sufficiently for having the temerity to actually complain about their appalling 'service'

  6. Christine Hedley

    Motorcycle sounds for inducing stress?

    Well that's helpful for me since I live close to a very noisy and aggressive mid-life-crisis type who faffs about all day on his two-wheeled willy extension. I think there's a fair chance I'm going to sound stressed.

    1. Miek

      Re: Motorcycle sounds for inducing stress?

      Tell me about it, one of those "Harley Posers" drives past my house at 7am every day on his way to work. What a wanker!

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Motorcycle sounds for inducing stress?

      Maybe I should use my field recorder to make some recordings of my fuckwit neighbours, who have raised door and window slamming to a sort of musique concrete art form, and whose unpleasant little toddler seems to be a fan of TVGohome's "Jump Up And Down Screaming Your Fucking Lungs Out".

      This morning, I was woken by at least five building-shaking door slams in under a minute. I am probably rather grumpy as a result.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I guess all those spy agencies want HD voice..

    I mean, what better way to secretly gather biometrics than to use the one thing you cannot avoid in a phone call?

    This is why I don't like services like Viber and Siri - you're giving a company in a nation that isn't above spying on everyone and their dog voluntarily a voice print. Now is Apple more a hardware than an info merchant, but Google voice is an obvious candidate to do the same.

    Paranoid? Nope - I worked with these people. The size of their haystack is more important than the needles because the haystack draws the funds. It's not about those few needles anymore - they just form convenient excuses.

  8. Z80

    "a half-megabyte phone system"

    What does that mean? Do you mean half-megabit with that being the codec's bit rate?

  9. Dick Emery

    Speak in monotone

    Heeeeellooooo. Yesssss. Thisssss isssss dawwwwg.

  10. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    Higher quality audio ??

    At my place, they switched on the G.722 codec for higher quality internal calls. They were inundated with complaints from users because all internal phone calls sounded "wrong"

  11. Paul Hayes 1

    chicken and egg

    The post my "A Non e-mouse" goes to show why this isn't likely to take off any time soon.

    The general public don't want HD phone calls, it sounds "weird". I turned G.722 on for internal calls in our office and it takes some getting used to.

    There's no point in the businesses paying a load of money to BT for HD audio since it'll only work if the entire call path is in HD, including the physical hardware the person at home has.

    People are too used to 64kbps G.711a for fixed lines and even lower quality on GSM.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I am always stressed when I talk to my insurance company (Lloyd's/TBS home insurance). They are muppets, often can't find the policy, and will sure as hell try to wriggle out of paying for anything, however obvious. Also, by the time I have got that far, I have usually been listening to horrid hold music and nerve-jangling canned announcements for ages, too.

    Why don't I change? Because as with courier firms, they all suck about as much, sadly.

    So yes, I always sound stressed, because talking to them is unpleasant and irritating.

    1. blcollier

      Re: meh

      At least you didn't go for the "offshore call centre" gambit. If you had, I would have had to slap you and point out that none of our Claims centres are offshore.

      Can't speak for the customer service side of things though - it's been a long time since I worked on Claims.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: meh

        Nope, not offshore, just estuary mouthbreathers who seem unable to spell, retain simple information or operate their own computers. It takes multiple attempts even to find the damn policy- and that's if you have the documents to hand. If you don't, then good luck with a name/postcode lookup.

        (Actually, I am rather partial to an educated Dehli accent, it is frequently dangerously distracting. That's another issue altogether, though)

  13. Irongut

    Stress? Happy more like!

    "The testing involves recordings made by people under stress, induced using headphone-piped motorcycle sounds"

    Why would that make you stressed? I watch bike racing most weekends and attend MotoGP at least once a year. I'd sound perfectly happy & relaxed.

  14. Corinne

    Stress calling claims departments

    Almost by definition the majority of people calling claims departments are going to be stressed. Been in a car accident? You'd be a bit unnatural if you weren't a bit stressed. Come home to find your house broken into, or the bathroom flooded & brought down the ceiling into your kitchen? Liikewise.

    They were recently considering employing voice stress analysis for people calling to claim benefits (not sure if they went ahead with that or not); well if you've ever lost your job & had to claim, that in itself is very stressful & the initial claim has to be done over the phone.

    But I'm with Irongut when it comes to motorcycle sounda making me happier if anything.

  15. Nameless Faceless Computer User


    Technology has been around for years. They used to sell electronic kits to build at home to measure voice stress. It's very unreliable, more of a parlor trick than anything else.

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