When most people think of the term artificial intelligence, science fiction films both old and new tend to come to mind. Whether it’s the military network Skynet becoming self-aware in The Terminator and wiping out the majority of mankind with nuclear weapons, or the hosts in Westworld developing consciousness and turning against their human masters, Hollywood tends to paint a grim picture of this area of technology.
The reality is that artificial intelligence – or AI for short – is not simply some fatalistic abstract concept destined to wreak havoc on a futuristic society, but rather a currently available technology that stands poised to revolutionise a number of industries, including security.
Robots replacing humans
Whilst it may be hard to believe now, robots that leverage AI will, at some point in the near future, perform many jobs that are done by humans today. In a recent interview with Quartz, Microsoft founder Bill Gates suggested that the government should tax robots as a way to keep automation from replacing human workers too quickly.
“Right now, the human worker who does, say, $50,000 worth of work in a factory, that income is taxed and you get income tax, social security tax, all those things. If a robot comes in to do the same thing, you’d think that we’d tax the robot at a similar level,” Gates told the publication.
Naturally, there is a bit of healthy skepticism on the part of security end users about yet another new technology that promises to transform the industry. They have been burned in the past by things such as video analytics in its early days, which overpromised and under-delivered. However, while still in its infancy stages, robots for security enhancement are being actively evaluated by a number of high-profile Fortune 100 companies.
Artificial intelligence in security
By now, most people have at least read about, or have a vague idea what AI is, but there is also a lot of confusion about some of the various terms that are used in conjunction with it; for example, machine learning, deep learning, neural networks, etc. All of these terms essentially refer to the capability of software programs to recognise patterns by analysing large amounts of collected data. These pattern recognition algorithms all produce an output that falls under the umbrella category of artificial intelligence.
Narrow AI focuses on executing
While the aforementioned science-fiction movies all deal with ideas surrounding general AI, which involves machines being able to perform any intellectual task that a human could, the technology being developed for the security industry would fall under the category of narrow AI, which focuses on executing certain defined tasks, such as object recognition in the case of video analytics or navigation for a security robot.
Speaking of video analytics, this will be one of the first major domains within the security industry that will be radically transformed by AI. The rules-based analytics of old, such as virtual tripwire, wrong-way motion detection and object left behind, will soon be rendered obsolete by AI, which completely eliminates the need for pre-programmed algorithms. In fact, sensor technology available today can capture an amount of metadata on people in real time that some privacy advocates would consider downright scary, including their identity, gender and age. With such capabilities already within reach, the video analytics of tomorrow will be able to do much more than just alert users when a person, animal or vehicle has crossed an invisible barrier.
Robotics and AI
Although video analytics may be the first security technology to leverage AI to the greatest extent, it is clear that the potential for robotics in the industry is vast and we have only begun to scratch the surface of what it is capable of. However, the use of robotics in security would not be practical without artificial intelligence technology. AI is, in fact, the driver of the two main technologies that security robotics – be it unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more commonly known as drones – leverage, including intelligent navigation and advanced object recognition.
|Both UGVs and UAVs are going to have a significant impact on facility protection moving forward|
One of the limitations of most currently available UGVs is that they are limited in the types of terrain they can cover; however, other robots are being built to traverse more rugged landscapes and intelligent navigation, which incorporates GPS data and deep learning via machine vision technology, will be paramount in helping them secure the facilities they are assigned to protect. It will provide said robot with the logic to travel around various obstructions that cross their path in an efficient manner.
The second component of the equation, advanced object recognition, is actually what enables a robot to become an effective part of the enterprise security team. Leveraging AI, robots, similar to their human counterparts, will be able to identify, at range, when a human or vehicle is approaching a perimeter and then execute a set of standard operating procedures in line with the organisation’s goals.
Future of robots in security
Undoubtedly, both UGVs and UAVs are going to have a significant impact on facility protection moving forward – and while the combination of humans and robots is ideal for most locations, there are a variety of so-called “dangerous, dirty and dull” jobs where it would indeed be preferable to use a robot over a human guard.
For example, it would be unfair and perhaps unreasonable to post a human at a critical utility site that is hundreds of miles away from the nearest population centre. However, because of the importance of the site to the nation’s power grid or water supply, it may be necessary to have an enhanced security presence there and a robot would be a perfect fit. There are also numerous toxic-waste dumps scattered about the country, many of which are managed by states, which need to be protected. This is a mundane and potentially hazardous job that would be another ideal application for robots.
Security has traditionally been seen in the corporate world as a cost centre rather than as a business unit that adds value to the bottom line. While the use cases for artificial intelligence and robotics are still being fleshed out, it is clear that the technology presents a way for security departments to justify their existence beyond “guns, guards and gates.” Only time will tell how successful organisations will be in leveraging the capabilities offered by AI, but the future looks very bright indeed.