Jim's Polka

The life of a former software engineer, now a law student

Saturday, April 16, 2005

CFP 2005: Intelligent Video Surveillance*

So, this is the panel that interested me the most. My pre-law school job was as a software engineer for an intelligent video surveillance company. We were mentioned during the panel, but we didn't get as much airtime as some of our competitors. Specifically, one of our competitors sent a sales guy to participate in the panel. He did an OK job talking about what their product can do - alert you when someone in the video does something unexpected or unusual, that sort of thing. Of course, being a sales guy, he exaggerated, but that's the way of the world. After him, another panelist gave an overview of the state of the industry. Then they had an academic researcher talk about the technical capabilities of the technology in more detail. It was a relief to hear him talking, because I think the previous people were giving the audience a sense that the technology is further along than it really is. I mean, they can do lots of interesting things, but it's not as Big Brother-ish as it sounds. Face recognition technology, for example, is horrible. Classification of objects is another area where people are much better than computers and will be for quite a while. The panel was closed out with a guy from the Electronic Privacy Information Center talking about privacy concerns. I was happy to see that he didn't get carried away with the doom and gloom. He correctly pointed out that you don't really have a problem unless the surveilers try to match behavior with specific people. He followed with some other concerns, in particular the problem of what patterns are being detected. If the algorithms are designed with some kind of inherent bias in them, you could have a civil liberties problem. Happily, I think that's not a problem at this stage.

* Rather than look for a strict definition, here's a rough version - intelligent video surveillance is what you get when you have a computer watching your surveillance cameras instead of getting people to do it. Face recognition is an example, but far from the best. The better stuff involves tracking behavior without trying to track people.