Flat Earth

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Truth is stranger

This is a truly terrifying development for some: an Israeli company claims to have developed a computer program that detects lies.

Tell your wife that you have been delayed at a business meeting, or someone who rings you that the person they want is not at home, and, if they have the phone connected to a computer, they will apparently be able to monitor the truth of what you are saying. Tell-tale colours show on the screen - green indicates the truth, white means uncertainty and blue stands for exaggeration. A downright lie brings up a flashing "False Statement".

The inventors claim 85 per cent accuracy for their program, called Truster. "When the brain hears something the mouth says with which it does not agree, there are certain delays in the speaker's voice delivery," says the project manager, Amir Liebermann. "And we can measure and analyse them, slight though they may be."

Nor does one have to be on the other end of a phone. Truster's promoters say customs officers might be able to detect contraband without ever opening a suitcase, and that voters will be able to discern whether politicians are telling the truth on TV.

Or perhaps not: according to Mr Liebermann, psychopaths can beat the technology, "because they are totally convinced of what they say and never think it over".

London calling

WE SPECIALISTS in foreign news will be hoping for a better year than 1997, when four out of the top 10 news stories, according to a poll of news organisations in 43 countries, were British, or at least British- related.

Way out in front, of course, was the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Second was the handover of Hong Kong, at which those who knew something about the place or China were vastly outnumbered by first-timers, some wondering aloud why Deng Xiaoping hadn't turned up.

The old despot's death was at number seven, two places below Tony Blair's victory, while the cloning in Scotland of Dolly the sheep got in at number 10. The best place to be a foreign correspondent during 1997, in other words, was London.