Can AI help create “smart borders” between countries?

A refugee in Uganda’s Oruchinga settlement uses an iris scan to claim food assistance.

Claire Nevill/WFP

In 2016, border patrols in Greece, Latvia and Hungary received a prototype for an AI-powered lie detector to help screen asylum seekers. The detector, called iBorderCtrl, was funded by the European Commission in hopes to eventually mitigate refugee crises like the one sparked by the Syrian civil war a year prior.

iBorderCtrl, which analyzes micro expressions in the face, received but one slice of the Commission’s €34.9 billion border control and migration management budget. Still in development is the more ambitious EuMigraTool, a predictive AI system that will process internet news and social media posts to estimate not only the number of migrants heading for a particular country, but also the “risks of tensions between migrants and EU citizens.”

Both iBorderCtrl and EuMigraTool are part of a broader trend: the growing digitization of migration-related technologies. Outside of the EU, in refugee camps in Jordan, the United Nations introduced iris scanning software to distribute humanitarian aid, including food and medicine. And in the United States, Customs and Border Protection has attempted to automate its services through an app called CBP One, which both travelers and asylum seekers can use to apply for I-94 forms, the arrival-departure record cards for people who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

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Tim Brinkhof
Tim Brinkhof is a Dutch, New York-based journalist. He studied European history at New York University and has written about politics and technology for Vox, Jacobin, New Lines Magazine and MIT Technology Review.