Artificial intelligence (AI) technology is the latest tool being used to combat gun violence in the United States.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, mass shootings have increased from 269 in 2014 to 611 in 2020. Companies like ZeroEyes are trying to use new technology to help stop shootings and save lives.
Former Navy SEALs Rob Huberty and Sam Alaimo founded and created ZeroEyes, an AI weapons detection platform that uses the technology to monitor cameras that detect unconcealed guns. The company calls itself a "human-verified A.I. gun detection solution that integrates into existing security cameras to stop mass shootings and gun-related violence; by reducing response times, providing actionable intelligence, and delivering clarity" in the hope of saving lives.
“We wanted to create a pragmatic solution that can work right now," Alaimo told Spectrum News. "We didn’t want to argue about gun laws and we didn’t want to offer thoughts and prayers."
The founders began working on the software following the 2018 Valentine's Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 and injured 17 more.
The software analyzes surveillance video. If it detects a weapon, it immediately sends an alert to security experts inside the company’s Philadelphia operation center, who then ultimately will contact law enforcement.
“You walk in front of a camera to the time they’ve made this determination and the time that you receive that alert, 3-5 seconds,” Huberty told Spectrum News.
When the software detects a suspected firearm, an alert flashes in the ZeroEyes control room, providing the exact location and suspected gun type. A trained responder then looks at the video to confirm the threat and notify the police.
“For example, janitorial equipment could look like a potential weapon. The responder would have to make a determination by ascertaining if it is a gun or not a gun,” Huberty said.
ZeroEyes says its technology is being used in 29 states by school districts, companies and even by the federal government. The company is also testing a system that uses drones and robots to combat a potential active shooter.
“What we can do with that drone is fly it above a shooter and track his or her whereabouts," Alaimo said. "What we can do with the unmanned ground vehicle is walk it into a room with a barricaded shooter to tell first responders what part of the room the shooter is in, what type of weapon system they have."
The company customizes "every algorithm for each of our clients, depending on if it’s a casino, a stadium, a school,” Alaimo said.
The ZeroEyes team says they are constantly training artificial intelligence to detect different types of guns in thousands of scenarios. However, the company’s software has limitations, it’s unable to detect a concealed gun because it relies on surveillance video which poses privacy concerns.
Some experts question the use of AI technology in preventing shootings, raising privacy concerns, as well as about its impact on students' mental health and privacy if used in classrooms.
“You have to ask where is this going to go in the future," said Jay Stanley, a Senior Policy Analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union. "When we have cameras that are not only looking for guns but are we acting suspiciously? There are companies that claim to be able to detect suspicious behavior. What does that look like? We certainly don’t want to blanket classrooms where children are. Some studies show this creates a lot of anxiety."
The creators of ZeroEyes say they designed their software in a way that respects the right to privacy.
“We don’t stream live feeds. We don’t see camera feeds of students, we don’t see camera feeds of employees. All we see is a blank screen that represents thousands of cameras, when a gun has been seen, we will get a freeze frame image,” Alaimo said.