AI & Security – What are the benefits and risks?

image shownig CCTV wuth an AI sign

In 1949, when he wrote 1984, Orwell envisaged a Big Brother state that people could not conceive as ever being real. As time has gone on, it has become increasingly real, especially with the growth in Artificial Intelligence in areas like surveillance.

AI  has been around in the security industry since the 1990s in basic form, with Video Analytics which are designed to detect suspicious activity. The problem with these systems is they aren’t smart enough to determine between a human and a sheep, for example so caused a lot of false alarms.

This is set to change with the latest developments in AI rapidly coming down the track. Governments around the world are grappling with its uses as well as the risks. Concerns around the abuse of the various systems range from attacks on our privacy to the potential for thought manipulation through information control. AI Video surveillance is a key area that is impacting the industry.

Privacy Concerns

The French Government has sparked controversy over its fast tracking of legislation to enable the use of AI video surveillance for the Paris Olympics in 2024. Data privacy campaigners, including Amnesty International have voiced concerns that this will end up becoming a permanent feature rather than a one-off for the Olympics.

Amnesty International called the proposal a “turning point” in the use of AI surveillance technologies in France and said it marked a “dangerous step” for human rights and privacy rights.

Equally controversial has been the Metropolitan Police’s use of Live Facial Recognition software which it says is only used in exceptional circumstances. It is highly likely that the use of such technology will continue to grow.

Benefits of AI Video Surveillance

AI allows surveillance systems to continuously monitor environments without human interaction for abnormalities and threats. The consistency and high level of accuracy allow security teams to dedicate greater resources to more important tasks. Machine learning algorithms are being developed to help identify signs of trespassing, vandalism, violence and fire.

Another positive aspect is real-time alerts which immediately notify security and can be more reliable than humans doing the same job where errors can be made. In addition, using AI-assisted visual searching, footage and images can be found more efficiently allowing faster, more effective investigation.

Risks of AI Video Surveillance

Cyber security is a risk and it is vital that video feeds are encrypted and all relevant software is regularly updated. As mentioned above, privacy is also an issue.

One aspect that is increasingly becoming highlighted is bias. There is evidence that facial recognition performs less effectively on women and people of colour.

Access Control

AI supported access control systems are another area likely to become more prevalent. Used to identify patterns, make predictions and streamline operations, AI-supported access control has huge potential. For example, a system like this could detect unusual behaviour in a more intelligent way, people arriving at unusual times, hanging around outside, for example. This granular level of analysis isn’t possible with current systems but could provide huge benefits, allowing earlier intervention and crime prevention. Further reading on this can be found in this blog.

AI is here to stay and it has the potential to improve the security industry’s efficiency and effectiveness, but the risks can’t be ignored. The way it is designed, regulated and used will determine all our futures. Ethical considerations, transparency and responsible AI governance to prevent misuse and to protect individual freedoms are essential. We must all bear in mind the warnings Orwell tried to give us – to quote Huxley (and Shakespeare) “Oh brave new world”!

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