Industry Focus

Artificial Intelligence and Drones

I went shopping after Christmas. Right there, on sale, I spotted a drone. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the box and for whatever reason, I felt compelled to buy it. I gave it a test flight so that I can better understand the pros and cons of drones in the security industry. I’ve learned a thing or two since that day.

Google has partnered with the Department of Defense (DoD) to help build Artificial Intelligence (AI) for analyzing drone footage. Oddly enough, Google’s involvement didn’t go over so well with some Google employees.

Wait a minute; employees are outraged that the company would offer resources to DoD? Enter Project Maven.

“There’s a general concern in the tech community of somehow the military-industrial complex using their stuff to kill people incorrectly,” said Google’s Eric Schmidt. This is close enough to the dumbest thing I’ve ever read that I’m shaking my conservative head. Having been involved with the Air Force in my younger days, I don’t remember learning about the proper way to kill someone. Project Maven is a fast-moving project also known as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team; a mission to “accelerate DoD’s integration of big data and machine learning.” The Defense Department spent about $7.4 billion in AI-related programs in 2017.

Like numerous other technologies and security solutions, drones are quickly becoming an equal partner in securing facilities, perimeters, pipelines, and even along the Southern U.S. border and surrounding environments. The military uses drones in numerous ways, some of which protect the very troops that are in a hostile environment. That also means military drones are collecting vast amounts of footage, so much so that human analysts cannot keep up. Until now, the military, or anyone else for that matter, has had a difficult time combing through the data gathered during drone flights.

AI is the game changer. Machine learning enables vehicle identification, which takes the burden off analysts. Project Maven’s goal has been able to provide the military with advanced computer vision, enabling automated detection and identification of objects in at least 38 categories captured by a drone’s fullmotion camera. Project Maven also has the ability to track individuals as they come and go from different locations.

The real problem isn’t with DoD having drones, AI or the resources provided by private companies. It is not a new situation for a private firm to partner with the military, especially to develop policies and safeguards for use, because it happens all the time. The military uses some of this information in the fight against terrorism, and whether you like it or not, there is truly a fight between good and evil.

The concern over drones and AI should be with the weekend drone flier, like me, who is more likely to crash a simple drone in the middle of soccer practice at the local park.

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Security Today.

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