Policing in the Twenty-First Century

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Policing in the Twenty-First Century

In a world of ubiquitous surveillance, the demands for citizens’ security and privacy are constantly clashing.

Biometrics, artificial intelligence, embedded computing, micro-sensors, and the Internet of Things will combine to permit authorities to know what’s going on everywhere, all the time.  That will lead to increased safety, with radical reductions in the occurrence of many violent crimes.  But it will also generate fears that the tradeoff will be the rise of a police state, in which every individual’s every activity will be monitored and recorded.

Millions of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are already installed in large American cities.  Every year, new generations of cameras are smaller, cheaper, more durable, and capable of shooting video in higher resolution. 

Within the next few years, they’ll become even more powerful.  A report on Phys.org revealed that Carnegie Mellon researchers have developed technology that can scan people’s irises from a distance of forty feet.1  It can even identify drivers of cars from images captured from the vehicles’ side mirrors.  This means that the driver of every car or truck that passes a camera mounted next to a street or highway could be identified, enabling police to identify criminals with outstanding arrest warrants or suspects on terrorist watch lists.

Drones will soon hover over cities, using cameras to monitor citizens’ activities and deploying sensors to find meth labs and bomb-making factories. 

But all of these images will only allow police to locate where criminals were at a particular moment in time.  To make this information truly useful, it must be paired with artificial intelligence.  With AI software and big data technologies, all of the surveillance footage can be scanned for criminals’ faces and patterns of suspicious behavior.

Consider the vision of automated law enforcement presented recently in a series of articles by The Futurist:2 

  • Miniature CCTV cameras are installed throughout a city or town.
  • The footage these cameras capture is shared in real-time with a supercomputer housed within the local police department or sheriff’s building.
  • Throughout the day, this supercomputer will take note of every face and license plate the cameras capture in public. The supercomputer will also analyze suspicious human activity or interactions, such as leaving a bag unattended, loitering, or when a person circles a block twenty or thirty times.  Note that these cameras will also record sound, allowing them to detect and locate the source of any gunshot sound they register...

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