AI can also drastically streamline simple administrative tasks, while providing cutting-edge analysis far beyond human capabilities. As a result, it can save budgets, time and lives. Here, we focus on five areas where we’re seeing governments start to realize this immense potential.
Areas of public safety ripe for AI
1. Preventative policing
Governments around the world are using AI to predict and prevent crime. In the US, law enforcement agencies in city governments – including New Orleans and Los Angeles – have worked with the private sector to create predictive policing programs. These use data to trace people’s ties to other gang members, outline criminal histories and analyze social media posts. In one instance, a program could determine if a crime was gang related by assessing four criteria: the neighborhood and location of the crime, the number of suspects and the primary weapon used. Some AI developers assert their tool can also predict the likelihood of individuals committing violence or becoming victims of crime.
Another area that could benefit from predictive analysis is violent crime. The UK Government is developing a system called the National Data Analytics Solution (NDAS). This will use statistics and AI to assess the risk of someone committing or becoming a victim of these crimes, so agencies can intervene.
2. Supporting criminal investigations
While AI is well positioned to predict and prevent compromises to public safety, it also has a role to play when a crime, accident or disaster does occur. South Africa has been able to leverage ShotSpotter technology to combat two very different types of crime: wildlife poaching in Kruger National Park and gun violence in two townships in Cape Town. In 2018, evidence gathered from ShotSpotter sensors led to the successful conviction in a gang-related shooting in Cape Town after a ShotSpotter alert prompted police to review CCTV footage.
In addition to the criminal conviction last year, the technology has also contributed to a five-fold increase in the recovery of illegal guns within the two townships where the technology has been deployed, due in part to its ability to provide accurate data on gun activity.
3. Combatting terrorist threats
Many technology companies are positioning artificial intelligence as a powerful ally in fighting terrorism. Governments are keen to explore the approach: in 2018, the UK Home Office revealed a new AI tool that can detect 94% of Daesh (ISIS) propaganda with over 99.9% accuracy. It uses machine learning to determine whether the material in videos is terrorist propaganda. As the tool is integrated into the video upload process, it prevents extremist content from going online and deprives terrorist organizations of a valuable recruitment channel. Unfortunately, while the UK Government has invested heavily in the tool, tech firms have declined to adopt it to date, in part because of a lack of regulatory requirement making it a low order priority.
AI is also a valuable tool in identifying suspicious banking activities associated with terrorist financing. It can supplement existing systems for monitoring transactions with increasingly sophisticated machine analysis that spots anomalies in data and constantly updates known red flags. AI has the ability to mine data much more quickly, and along a greater number of alert criteria, than traditional auditing methods.
4. Responding to natural disasters
Thanks to factors such as climate change and increased urbanization, the number of natural disasters – and the amount of people they affect – continues to grow.
Governments around the globe have used AI as a relatively cheap and impressively effective way of detecting:
- Where natural disasters will occur
- Which areas will be hit hardest
- The mitigation systems that are most likely to fail
- Which communities and demographics will be in the most danger
- What actions are most likely to mitigate the impact of the disaster and its after-effects
On average, flooding in India causes economic losses of an estimated US$7.4 billion US a year. After three months of flooding in 2018 left over 1,400 dead, the country’s Central Water Commission partnered with Google to create a flood warning system. The approach uses AI technologies, geospatial mapping and analysis of water data to warn when a flood is coming and where, so agencies can take action. CWC and Google sent out the first alert in September 2018, warning residents of Patna about heavy rain and likely flooding.
5. Crowd and traffic control
Whether they’re at sporting events, religious events or protests, crowds present logistical and safety challenges for public safety officers. Several governments have turned to AI technologies to reduce uncertainty and risk while moving crowds and responding to threats within them.
In Japan, the National Police Agency has begun experimenting with AI in the areas of terrorism and criminal investigations. This will include using AI to automatically spot abandoned objects and people behaving in an unusual way at large sporting contests, events and international conferences. The system will alert public safety officers, who can then assess the situation and determine a course of action. If successful, the Agency will apply the methods to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
In 2019, Indian police turned to AI to ensure crowd management and safety during the two months of Kumbh Mela, the world’s largest religious gathering. Over 1,000 CCTV cameras collected data from the large festival site as AI technology allowed the police to monitor crowd density, identify and monitor suspicious activity, and better manage the flow of traffic. AI was even used to optimize waste collection as bin sensor data and traffic data were used to route collection vehicles. With over 150 million attendees, 2019’s Kumbh Mela avoided the fatal stampedes that are a historical concern for the festival.