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piqd | Can surveillance cameras detect violence?

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Anyone who still deals with facial recognition is, from a purely biometric perspective, old school. Police officers have long been dreaming of, and developers of, surveillance systems building technology that classifies behavior. For example, the systems are supposed to recognize people by their walk and – even more advanced – recognize scenes of people beating up or kicking others. Such software is intended to assess the behavior that a surveillance camera records and send security guards if the system triggers a violent alarm. In Mannheim, such a system is in use in the city center, and this commendable research by Josephine Lulamae for the NGO Algorithm Watch shows where its weaknesses lie. She researched on site in Mannheim how the system works and what the people who move in front of the cameras every day say about it (shop owners welcome the technology, some residents see more annoying and harassing police operations coming).

For example, cameras and their software have long been used to detect apparently abandoned suitcases – possible bombs – at train stations for a long time. US cities are experimenting with sound detection that triggers gunshots. The visual recognition of violent acts is even more difficult than object recognition. A participating researcher from the Fraunhofer Society describes the complexity:

“try to train algorithms to spot “hitting, strangling, and kicking.” Initially, Müller says, officers would switch the “AI surveillance” feature off, because so many movements were flagged. Now, the algorithms are flagging hugs as “strangling”. He adds that this is not necessarily a problem, because a hug can be non-consensual: “Imagine a stranger hugs you from behind,” he says. “Here, we need the police as the decision-maker to take a look”

Accordingly, there is still a problem with the detection technology, and there are simply not enough acts of violence in the locations filmed. The police officers have to produce data themselves – by staging fights with each other in public places.

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