Why Digital Barriers limited its free ‘missing-person solution’ to young people

Why Digital Barriers limited its free ‘missing-person solution’ to young people
The UK-based surveillance and security solutions provider Digital Barriers had recently announced that it will be making its live facial recognition software available at no cost to the country’s authorities and agencies involved in the search for missing young people. The software, known as SmartVis Face, is machine learning-based and was built for tracking criminals and terror suspects against watch lists that contain thousands of people.

While the initiative itself is commendable and could be considered a strategic marketing move, it is interesting to note that Digital Barriers had limited the free offering to the search of young people alone. After all, one would assume that there are a significant number of adults, especially elderly people, who go missing. Why didn’t the company make its solution available free of cost to find people of all ages? Was it due to a technological or business limitation on part of the company?

Asmag.com spoke to Zak Doffman, CEO of Digital Barriers, regarding this and he stressed that the technology is powerful enough to recognize anyone as long as they are part of the watch list. He indicated that the service could be opened up for everyone in the future.

“Of course the police are expected to look for missing people of all ages, and the technology can help find anyone (as long as the analytic can match faces against an existing watch list),” Doffman said. “We’re focusing the donation campaign on missing young people because this is a particularly sensitive area where we can immediately make a difference – but there is potential for this to branch out to all missing people in the future.”

Asked why the service was limited to the U.K, Doffman said that at its initial stage, the company is able to be most responsive in the country where they are based, although they are open to moving the scheme elsewhere. “Of course, the technology itself is available globally,” he added.

The issue of missing people

To Doffman, “missing young people” is a particularly sensitive area and that’s one of the main reasons for its service being focused on that segment of society. While this is a valid argument, there are other factors the company could have considered.
According to a 2014 report from U.K.’s National Crime Agency, someone is recorded as missing in the country every two minutes. Significantly, almost two-thirds of cases involved children and young people, with the 15-17 age group being reported missing most frequently. That’s an overwhelming 64 percent of the total number of missing people reported.

In comparison, a US report published around the same period suggests 40 percent of missing people in the country are below 18 years old.

According to more recent figures from Missing Kids UK, a child goes missing every three minutes in the U.K. and one in five of these children are at risk of being sexually exploited. Sixty percent of all missing incidents in 2015-16 were related to under-18 year olds.

AI technology to find missing people

As concerns on missing people increase, law enforcement agencies are increasingly turning to security technology for answers. Solutions like that from Digital Barriers is definitely going to make a difference in dealing with this issue, but the British company is not the only one making progress in this regard.

Earlier this year, Motorola Solutions said it was adding machine learning to its surveillance equipment used by law enforcement personnel. The company’s body cams could soon include AI technology that could help officers identify objects and missing people. Motorola Solutions is working with Neurala, the deep learning startup, on this.

“We see powerful potential for artificial intelligence to improve safety and efficiency for our customers, which in turn helps create safer communities,” said Paul Steinberg, Chief Technology Officer at Motorola Solutions. “But applying AI in a public safety setting presents unique challenges. Neurala’s ‘edge learning’ capabilities will help us explore solutions for a variety of public safety workflows such as finding a missing child or investigating an object of interest, such as a bicycle.”

Neurala’s L-DNN (Lifelong Deep Neural Network) technology apparently eliminates the risk of ‘catastrophic forgetting’ – a term that describes the issue of deep neural networks forgetting skills and knowledge they have learned in the past when presented with a new task. Without catastrophic forgetting, Neurala can potentially accelerate the development of new AI applications that can learn at the edge after their deployment.

With the number of missing people, especially children, continuing to remain high, both traditional and startup security solution providers have a major role to play. Solutions like that of Digital Barriers are definitely going to be crucial in the coming days in controlling this problem, while innovations in technology could give rise to other potential products. 
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