“It’s the end of the world as we know it.” The iconic song from rock band R.E.M. has been the soundtrack for many dark days since its original release in…wait for it…1987. It was a simpler world then…wasn’t it?

Actually, there’s ongoing debate over whether we are living in an increasingly dangerous world, or whether 24-hour news cycles and social media are decrying global crime conditions that may actually be stable or in decline. Still, the news delivers a daunting barrage: terrorist attacks, gang murders, warring militant groups, gun violence and cybercrime. It can be hard to know where to focus and how to stay safe both in the physical and digital environments.

Better news: AI and Robotics in public safety and security present a growing, diverse and powerful force for good against an evolving threat landscape. From tireless patrol robots to game-theory based monitoring of harbors and airports to predictive analytics at IoT scale…security technology is helping law enforcement, businesses, communities, and citizens stay safe and quash criminal activity.

Robo-guards: At a data center or street corner near you

There’s a long tradition of retired police and military personnel joining the civilian security workforce. Military robots are following suit, being deployed as extensions of police departments and security staffing teams. Robots are increasingly being used as smart, and uber-efficient patrol guards in businesses, institutions, city streets and transit hubs. They have become affordable enough to justify cost even for smaller businesses. The global security robots market is likely to reach $2.71 billion in 2021, according to Arcluster, in the first-of-its-kind report on the Worldwide Security Robots Market (2016–2021).

There are numerous examples of military-style robots reporting for duty. The Los Angeles Police department handles car bombs with a 50-foot telescoping arm on their burly Bomb Assault Tactical Control Assessment Tool (BatCat), built on a Caterpillar tractor chassis. In Cleveland, a tiny version, the 12-inch robot Griffin, that under cars and behind dumpsters to scan for hidden explosive devices.

South Korea will be making extensive use of robo-guards to enforce security at the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. In Greece, aquatic rescue robots have sped flotation devices across the water at 20 mph to Syrian refugees stranded by capsized boats. In Japan, suspicious drones flying over sensitive areas are scooped up by defense drones wielding what are essentially six-by-ten foot butterfly nets — the better to avoid falling debris that would result from shooting at them and destroying them in flight.

One company with early mainstream momentum is Knightscope, makers of the Autonomous Data Machines (ADMs). They are 4-to-5-foot tall robotic security guards, able to monitor and report activity, stream video, and sniff out cybercrime, detecting devices that are trying to access data on a network. They can detect and alert authorities to the presence of certain kinds of items — guns, for example — a person may be carrying into a public area.

While their AI-driven capabilities are impressive, these robo-guards are at their best when they are feeding insight to, and taking direction from, their human counterparts. And when they are visible in public spaces, it will be natural for them to fulfill other typical aspects of a human security guard’s role: being an greeter for a business or city; providing directions, and gathering input from members of the community or business they serve.

AI: The brains of the operation for tech-enabled public safety

Artificial Intelligence is the other half of the story. Oceans of data are generated daily, both by humans and by the global mesh of devices that interact with us and with each other.

There is tremendous promise in the ability to aggregate and crunch that data and turn it into usable insights for public safety officials. AI can help us pre-empt crime by recognizing patterns, finding anomalies, and using predictive analytics to anticipate the likely next moves of terrorists and criminals from the physical and digital realms.

Digital transformation in the public safety field is no small challenge. It requires legacy IT systems and entrenched processes and behaviors. But the CIA, recognizing an existential need to modernize, did just that a few years ago. It moved onto the commercial cloud a few years ago and is now able to instantly and securely inter-operate across all 16 of its agencies and all levels of classification — a development its leadership describes as “game changing.”

Collaborating with AI and Robots to cut cost and improve safety

AI and robotics have much to offer security professionals who are responsible for the safety of people, places, and things (physical and digital.) There’s no question that protecting human life, sensitive data and other assets are worthy of our investment. But resources are finite, and there is tremendous value in using technology to replicate elements of human judgement, observation and insight.

Accenture recently asked 165 technology leads in police, justice and intelligence departments worldwide to identify the biggest challenges they face today. Their top three answers were: financial constraints, increased citizen expectations and the need to modernize operations. Digital transformation is essential to overcoming those challenges — as is adopting a proactive, preventive security strategy to ensure greater safety for individuals and communities everywhere.

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