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My Eyes Were Bloodshot And I Looked Suspicious

November 2, 2018
border crossing robot

My eyes were bloodshot, my voice was raspy, and I was in a bad mood. The last thing I wanted was some airport security guard from London’s Heathrow airport harassing me about why I was traveling.

If you haven’t traveled internationally to the United States in the past several years, then you haven’t had to deal with this ‘new’ experience. Many airports throughout the world now make you go through an additional level of security clearance to board a US bound aircraft. This means that you have to go through two completely separate security screenings before you board the plane.

In my case, I was flying from Eastern Europe to the US, with a short layover in London. When I arrived in the UK, I had to get off of the airplane and clear through customs. Then, I had to go back through a regular security clearance where I had to go through a body scanner and my baggage was also inspected.

Then, I had to walk to my gate (which is about a 2,000 mile walk at Heathrow) where I then had to go through another security clearance right at the gate. This is where the security guard started to harass me.

I say ‘security guard’ because the lady that targeted me was not a UK official. She was some sort of sub-contractor that worked for a private company that Heathrow airport had hired.

Remember, I had just gotten off of a long flight and had to go through the endless lines in Heathrow, so I was exhausted. Plus, I was getting sick, so I was in no mood to go through the airport security dog and pony show.

“Why are you traveling to the United States?” Was the first question I was prompted with.

Looking back at the security guard with my bloodshot eyes I answered, “Because I live there.”

“Why are you living there?” She then asked.

“Because I am an American,” I answered.

“How long have you been an American?”

“My entire life,” I responded with an admittedly short tone.

“Why are you traveling through the UK?” She asked.

“Because my flight had a layover here,” I said.

“Why did you choose to have a layover in the UK?” She asked.

I looked at her straight in the eyes, “Well, since I can’t hack my way into the airline’s algorithm that schedules flights, I was forced to land in the UK despite the fact that I’d rather be in any other place in the world right now.”

“Ok, come with me,” she said, as she motioned for me to follow her to some interrogation room.

Probably not the best response to give her, but I was frustrated and just wanted to get on the plane and go home. I couldn’t fake a smile and I wasn’t ready to just fold like a lawn chair to this ridiculous questioning.

Once in the interrogation room, things really started to get interesting. In this room, all of the windows which looked out onto the concourse of the terminal had been covered with butcher paper. The room was brightly lit with fluorescent lights and there were about a dozen cubicles where other unfortunate travelers were also being harassed.

I was led to one of these small cubicles where another sub-contracted security guard, this time a man, told me to sit down. Then for the next 20-30 minutes I was asked some of the most frustrating questions you could possibly think of.

It started out with simple things like, “Where do you work?” And “Have you traveled to the UK before?”

Then it progressed to personal questions about my family and finally he started to dig into who my employer was. He wanted a reference in the United States that he could contact to verify that I was traveling for business.

I tried to explain to him that I was my own employer and that there wasn’t anyone he could call. This went back and forth for about ten minutes until finally I demanded for him to either let me get on the plane or to take me to an official immigration office.

At this point, he just stared at me and then said, “Ok, you’re free to board the plane.”

Now, I wasn’t the only one going through this ordeal. There were about five other people in the room with me, all trying to board the same flight.

After I finally got to my seat on the plane, everyone on the flight still had to wait for those other poor people who were still in that interrogation room.

We ended up taking off almost an hour past our scheduled departure time, which, of course, meant that I missed my next connecting flight and required me to sleep in a hotel (at my own expense) in a beautiful back alley of Newark, New Jersey.

Anyway… the whole reason I tell you this story is because…

Over in Europe, specifically Hungary, Latvia, and Greece, travelers crossing those borders will be given an automated lie detection test given by an AI border agent.

“The system reportedly records travelers’ faces using AI to analyze 38 micro-gestures, scoring each response. The virtual agent is reportedly customized according to the traveler’s gender, ethnicity, and language.” –Gizmodo

“What’s in your suitcase? If you open the suitcase and show me what is inside, will it confirm that your answers were true?” That’s one of the questions travelers will be prompted with.

For me, this idea is both encouraging and terrifying.

It’s encouraging because I am generally a supporter of technology increasing the efficiencies in life. Also, technology (when deployed properly) is much more reliable and safer than relying on humans, who are notorious for eventually screwing up anything they touch.

On the other hand, this border crossing technology is also terrifying. What if the AI technology makes a mistake? Yes, there are humans that can override the system, for now. But, what happens in the future?

Are we headed to a point where the simple action of moving from point A to point B is approved, or disapproved, by some robot?

As an investor, there is a massive opportunity to start to positioning small amounts of capital into a variety of different AI companies. That is exactly what we’ll be doing in the near future.