"Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see," Edgar Allan Poe wrote in his 1845 masterpiece "The Tell-Tale Heart." Almost 170 years later, imaging software with artificial intelligence capabilities is making it easier to believe all of what a camera sees. (Part 2 of a 3-part series on technology employed by White House security forces.)
AISight is a program created by Houston-based BRS Labs, which uses behavioral recognition techniques to observe, learn and respond to video input. Once the software is implemented, it spends its time training and defining baseline behavior and patterns of people and places, understanding what's common and uncommon in a field of view and a period of time, down to days of the week and hours of the day. Once it has defined normal, it goes to work recording 5- to 10-second clips and looking for uncommon behavior, such as someone standing outside of an ATM at 4 a.m. on a Sunday, as opposed to normal stop-and-go ATM traffic throughout the week. When it sees abnormal behavior, sends out an alert.
The technology was used during the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, in August, and has been implemented in several other cities throughout the U.S. In Tampa, the system was installed months before the event actually happened so AISight could learn about local patterns of behavior. Of course, when the event happened, far more people showed up, but the system was prepared to recognize baseline patterns and deviations from them.
"Our software learns," explained David Gerulski, vice president of marketing for BRS. "It's got AI intelligence and it learns like a human does."
The system captured notable events in Tampa, Gerulski acknowledged, but he would not reveal the details. AISight was analyzing the output of cameras positioned throughout Tampa. And it sent more false alarms than alerts to actual incidents at the convention. But with thousands of people present and new permutations at work there, that's not too surprising, Gerulski said: Better safe than sorry.
One of the technology's biggest benefits that it enables law-enforcement forces to respond in real time, Gerluski says. Without AISight or similar technology, security officials find out about an incident only after the fact, and usually after a tired pair of eyes scans hours of tape.
Basically the software "expands the eyes looking at all those cameras," Gerluski says, changing the surveillance model without altering the infrastructure. "You could have 1,000 screens, no human could look at all the camera views. When something odd happens at the view, we can pop that out." Human attention is no longer needed to constantly monitor cameras and can be deployed elsewhere. Officers in the field can receive mobile alerts and video clips while an event is in progress.
AISight, which relies on patented behavioral analytics, can be implemented on top of existing camera systems. No new hardware need be installed. However, this kind of capability doesn't come cheap. The system costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, into the millions depending on the number of cameras the software is watching.
BRS wouldn't confirm or deny whether its software is currently being used by the White House.
For more details about AISight's behavioral recognition system, take a look at this video:
Part 2: Image Analysis