A Brief History of the Lie Detector

It’s surprisingly hard to create a real-life Lasso of Truth

7 min read
Close-up of the 1960s-era polygraph machine, on display at the Science Museum in London.
This Is True: This 1960s-era polygraph machine, on display at the Science Museum in London, wasn’t designed as a lie detector but rather for diagnosing illness and as a surgical monitor.
Photo: Board of Trustees of the Science Museum Group

When Wonder Woman deftly ensnares someone in her golden lariat, she can compel that person to speak the absolute truth. It’s a handy tool for battling evil supervillains. Had the Lasso of Truth been an actual piece of technology, police detectives no doubt would be lining up to borrow it.

Indeed, for much of the past century, psychologists, crime experts, and others have searched in vain for an infallible lie detector. Some thought they’d discovered it in the polygraph machine. A medical device for recording a patient’s vital signs—pulse, blood pressure, temperature, breathing rate—the polygraph was designed to help diagnose cardiac anomalies and to monitor patients during surgery.

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Lotfi Zadeh and the Birth of Fuzzy Logic

The inventor told us how he endured decades of opposition

10 min read
Lotfi Zadeh and the Birth of Fuzzy Logic

The denunciations were sometimes extreme.

“Fuzzy theory is wrong, wrong, and pernicious,” said William Kahan, a highly regarded professor of computer sciences and mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley in 1975. “The danger of fuzzy theory is that it will encourage the sort of imprecise thinking that has brought us so much trouble.”

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