Is AI the future of school security?
Last week, I told you about new advances in artificial intelligence by a company called OpenAI — an Elon Musk-backed nonprofit research firm — which has chosen not to release the research behind a new AI fake text generator called GPT2, for fears that it may be too dangerous to release.
This week, in keeping with that theme, I’d like to share with you how artificial intelligence is under consideration to beef up security at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The school, which was of course the site of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, is one of the latest to turn to a complex camera-software combination called Avigilon, according to a story last month in the Washington Post.
But this is not your ordinary surveillance system. Avigilon is an experimental artificial-intelligence system that monitors the movements of students and staff, and alerts a school-monitoring officer when its algorithm identifies something that seems to be out of the ordinary or people in places they are not supposed to be.
It can also track individual students based on their appearance, allowing school officials or administrators to pull up video of everywhere the student has been recorded by the Avigilon software with a single click.
At MSD High, the new surveillance system will utilize 145 new cameras, which will operate alongside the school’s existing security cameras. The system, if approved, will cost the Broward County School District about $600,000 in federal and local funds.
While the new technology’s ability to prevent an attack is unproven — and, like all AI technology, will get “smarter” with use — Avigilon is yet another tool that school districts are willing to try in order to prevent the unthinkable. Its key selling point is the software’s superhuman attention span, as well as its ability to learn what behavior is “normal,” and then quickly report abnormal or anomalous behavior to staff.
Detractors of this new technology have expressed concerns over its efficacy and accuracy — arguing that most of the testing that has been conducted was performed by the manufacturers themselves. Others, including students at Stoneman Douglas, have expressed their skepticism about whether the software’s “unusual motion detection” featured can effectively comprehend “the chaos of a typical high school, where frenzied movements and sudden gatherings are an everyday event,” according to the Washington Post report.
And those are all very legitimate concerns. Others, which strike me as less valid, revolve around additional surveillance and civil liberty violations — as hundreds of other cameras are already being used at MSD, and virtually every other school in America.
Whether or not this technology is approved by the Broward County Schools, you can rest assured that it will begin making its way into school districts across the country. As the technology develops further, I have little doubt that it will have the capability to prevent a school shooting. The only real question, in March 2019, is whether the software is currently ready for primetime.
— Originally Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News, 03/07/19