Cities using AI for pre-crime monitoring of surveillance videos

In a real-life twist of the TV show “Person of Interest,” cities around the country are adopting technology to detect and prevent crime before it happens.

In the TV show, a mysterious billionaire and computer genius recruits a former CIA agent to prevent violent crimes in New York using a computer system he built to analyze video surveillance.

In reality, San Francisco; Houston; El Paso, Texas; Birmingham, Ala.; and reportedly the site of the World Trade Center in New York among other entities have purchased that kind of software to detect and report “suspicious or abnormal behavior.” The European Union and the Homeland Security Department are also developing their own pre-crime detection systems.


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San Francisco’s Municipal Transit Authority (MUNI), the latest purchaser, is using AISight software to continuously monitor more than 150 “objects and activities” at 12 train stations via real-time video feeds.

The software uses artificial intelligence to learn which items and movements could indicate a potential threat. Video clips of suspicious activity and SMS text message alerts are automatically sent to MUNI employees upon detection.

The deal closed in early March, according to an unnamed source, reported Security Systems News. According a San Francisco Chronicle article earlier this month, the five-year deal is worth $3.6 million, although SSN reported it at just over $2 million. It includes support services as well as installation of the software. The system is intended to be forward-compatible with future surveillance technology.

BRS Labs, creators of the software, said it can be used to flag activities such as suspicious loitering, movement in restricted areas or a person leaving a bag unattended. It can also automatically shut down a train without human intervention, MUNI's Paul Rose told the Chronicle.

BRS Labs has eight patents related to the technology as well as 60 related patents pending or in process, said BRS Labs President John Frazzini, according to a report by Security Systems News.

Not everyone is thrilled with the new technology, with some likening it to Big Brother or the 2002 film “Minority Report,” which portrays a ruthless police force utilizing psychics to catch criminals before crimes occur.

Meanwhile, other forms of tech-enabled surveillance are coming under scrutiny. Currently there are bills in both the House and Senate to clamp down on the potential use of unmanned aerial vehicles for domestic surveillance, requiring law enforcement agencies to get a warrant first in most cases, GCN reported.

Reader Comments

Wed, Jun 20, 2012

From an agnostics perspective, the one thing we can say for sure about stuff like this is it will alter human social behaviors.

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