Nick Herbert is the Global Head of Government & Public Safety for Fujitsu, enabling a trusted digital society.
Technology continuously and rapidly reshapes our lives, with a cycle of progression and pause as new innovations are introduced and controls and regulations are adopted to improve societal use of each new step. Embedding artificial intelligence (AI) into video surveillance isn’t without its set of concerns (chiefly, privacy and civil liberties), sparking lively debates among citizens, policymakers and technologists.
However, the incorporation of this advanced technology undeniably offers substantial prospects for societal benefit, leading many government agencies and private companies to accelerate their consideration and potential adoption.
The Evolution Of Video Surveillance
Today’s AI video surveillance, powered by computer vision and analytics with affordable high-definition IP cameras, is a quantum leap from the early stages of CCTV.
AI has been a real game-changer in the surveillance landscape. AI surveillance can analyze video feeds in real time—discerning patterns, recognizing faces and even predicting behaviors. This has shifted the paradigm from reactive to proactive surveillance and has opened avenues to improve safety, preempt public health risks and enhance community social well-being.
Recent applications of these new AI-powered capabilities were shown during the Covid-19 pandemic, aiding in monitoring social distancing compliance and identifying potential health risks in crowded areas. The technology showcased its potential as a responsive tool for addressing immediate societal challenges, thereby cementing its position as not just a security device but a broader societal asset.
Applying The Benefits
While it’s straightforward to associate intelligent video surveillance primarily with law enforcement and crime prevention, the real value of this technology extends across various sectors, offering benefits that are both wide-ranging and industry-specific.
AI-powered video surveillance significantly bolsters security through real-time threat detection and response, offering improved accuracy while minimizing human error. It plays a pivotal role in enhancing public safety by monitoring crowds during various events and emergencies, providing invaluable assistance in managing and responding to natural disasters.
Furthermore, the technology is instrumental in health monitoring, ensuring compliance with crucial health and safety protocols and facilitating swift responses to health emergencies in public spaces. These features collectively contribute to creating safer, more secure environments for individuals in various settings.
• Retail industry. Computer vision and AI in retail are expected to bring great economic potential in various applications, not only in securing their premises but also in understanding customer behavior, optimizing store layouts and managing queues efficiently. By analyzing foot traffic and consumer interactions with products, retailers can devise strategies that enhance the customer shopping experience—ultimately driving sales and customer satisfaction.
• Healthcare sector. In healthcare facilities, AI surveillance ensures the safety of patients, staff and visitors while also monitoring patient behavior for signs of distress or medical emergencies. The technology proves invaluable in overseeing adherence to hygiene standards and operational protocols, contributing to a safer and more efficient healthcare environment. Indeed, even at a microscopic level, computer vision can improve patient outcomes by detecting suspicious skin lesions and predicting coronary artery disease from scans.
• Transportation and logistics. From managing traffic flow and reducing congestion in cities to securing airports, train and bus stations as well as monitoring cargo shipments, intelligent video surveillance plays a pivotal role in the transportation sector. It aids in the seamless coordination of logistics, ensuring the timely and safe transit of goods and people. According to studies cited by UCLA professor Donald Shoup, 30% of cars in traffic are cruising for parking. We’ve helped provide innovative parking solutions through the use of AI-powered video systems.
• Education institutions. Schools and universities employ AI surveillance to enhance the safety of their students and faculty, monitor attendance and even facilitate emergency response in critical situations. The technology acts as a preventive measure against potential threats (even against threats such as gun violence) while protecting students and faculty members—fostering a secure educational environment.
Protecting Civil Liberties
The discussions initiated by the United Nations University in 2019 around the concept and advantages of “predictive policing” shined a spotlight on the transformative potential of AI in law enforcement. However, the subsequent years have witnessed growing apprehension and scrutiny over the deeper, often less visible implications of these technologies.
A primary concern centers around the inherent bias and discrimination that AI systems might perpetuate or even exacerbate. Algorithms are trained on existing data, which may inadvertently reflect and replicate societal biases. The worry is that these biases, once embedded in AI systems, could lead to unjust profiling and discrimination, undermining the very principles of fairness and equity that justice systems strive to uphold. This predicament poses a substantial threat—not merely eroding public confidence but also undermining judicial outcomes.
The undercurrent of bias and potential for discrimination within AI-driven predictive policing technologies has unsurprisingly led to an erosion of trust among the public. Citizens grow wary, questioning the legitimacy and integrity of decisions driven by algorithms perceived as opaque and unaccountable. This dwindling trust in essential institutions risks fostering a climate of suspicion and tension that’s detrimental to the fabric of democratic societies.
In response to these pressing concerns and in a bid to regulate the field of AI, the European Parliament in May 2023 enacted the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act. This landmark legislation included a significant provision: a ban on the use of predictive policing and criminal prediction systems. This decisive legal step underscores the gravity of civil liberties concerns associated with predictive policing while reflecting a broader, growing consensus on the need for stringent oversight and ethical consideration in deploying AI technologies.
The AI Act exemplifies the proactive legal measures being instituted to navigate the complex ethical landscape of AI in law enforcement. However, it also serves as a reminder of the ongoing tension and necessary balance between leveraging technology for societal good and vigilantly safeguarding civil liberties. As we tread forward, the dialogue and policy landscape around AI and civil liberties will inevitably continue to evolve, requiring attentive observation, thoughtful analysis and active participation from all societal stakeholders.
Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?