Security News

'Aggression Detectors' Combat Anti-Social Behaviour ... With Mixed Results

Aggression detectors are being used in hundreds of American schools in the hope they "anticipate and prevent everything from mass shootings to underage smoking."

They work by detecting aggressive-sounding noises such as screams, gunshots, car alarms and breaking glass. However, the technology is in the early days of development and doesn't always go to plan.

Independent, nonprofit website ProPublica conducted a test with one device and found that ear-piercing screams didn't set off an aggression sensor, yet a coughing fit did. Slamming locker doors and students loudly wishing a friend 'happy birthday' have also triggered detectors. And some experts query the notion that loud verbal aggression precedes violence, when some mass shooters are often quiet in the lead up to their actions.

This technology isn't for solely for schools. Healthcare facilities, banks and prisons worldwide, including more than 100 in the US, are among the industries using detectors. An official at one hospital said the software "has spotted aggressive behaviour before staff could push a panic button, giving security officers a head start on defusing incidents before they escalate."

However, it is mass shootings in (American) schools that make headlines around the world. Asked if their algorithm could prevent a mass shooting, one company representative admitted, "I wouldn’t claim that we could prevent a crazy loony from shooting people." However, they said, "(Our) system gives schools and other facilities a much-needed early warning system. It enables them to act much faster when there’s a potential violent situation."

Some in the US education system agree, with one school security director noting, "(the detector) has worked on picking up aggression. My thought is: Maybe I can reduce the response time of students getting into a fight. The next punch could break their nose."

Suresh Venkatasubramanian, a University of Utah computer science professor, who studies how replacing humans with artificial intelligence affects decision-making in society, isn't so sure about aggression detectors: "It’s not clear it’s solving the right problem. And it’s not clear it’s solving it with the right tools."

Read ProPublica’s full report, including their methodology, HERE.

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