London Underground Is Testing Real-Time AI Surveillance Tools to Spot Crime

Thousands of people using the London Underground had their movements, behavior, and body language watched by AI surveillance software designed to see if they were committing crimes or were in unsafe situations, new documents obtained by WIRED reveal. The machine learning software was combined with live CCTV footage to detect aggressive behavior, guns or knives being brandished, as well as looking for people falling onto tube tracks or dodging fares.

From October 2022 until the end of September 2023, Transport for London (TfL), which operates the city’s Tube and bus network, tested 11 algorithms to monitor people passing through Willesden Green Tube station, in the northwest of the city. The proof of concept trial is the first time the transport body has combined AI and live video footage to generate alerts that are sent to frontline staff. More than 44,000 alerts were issued during the test, with 19,000 being delivered to station staff in real time.

Documents sent to WIRED in response to a Freedom of Information Act request detail how TfL used a wide range of computer vision algorithms to track people’s behavior while they were at the station. It is the first time the full details of the trial have been reported and follow TfL saying, in December, that it will expand its use of AI to detect fare dodging to more stations across the British capital.

In the trial at Willesden Green—a station that had 25,000 visitors per day before the Covid-19 pandemic—the AI system was set up to detect potential safety incidents to allow staff to help people in need, but also partly focused on criminal and antisocial behavior. Three documents provided to WIRED detail how AI models were used to detect wheelchairs, prams, vaping, people accessing unauthorized areas, or putting themselves in danger by getting close to the edge of the train platforms.

The documents, which are partially redacted, also show how the AI made errors during the trial, such as flagging children who were following their parents through ticket barriers as potential fare dodgers; or not being able to tell the difference between a folding bike and a non-folding bike. Police officers also assisted the trial by holding a machete and a gun in the view of CCTV cameras, while the station was closed, to help the system better detect weapons.

Privacy experts who reviewed the documents question the accuracy of object detection algorithms. They also say it is not clear how many people knew about the trial, and warn that such surveillance systems could easily be expanded in the future to include more sophisticated detection systems or face recognition software that attempts to identify specific individuals. “While this trial did not involve facial recognition, the use of AI in a public space to identify behaviors, analyze body language, and infer protected characteristics raises many of the same scientific, ethical, legal, and societal questions raised by facial recognition technologies,” says Michael Birtwistle, associate director at the independent research institute the Ada Lovelace Institute.

via Wired Top Stories

February 8, 2024 at 12:03PM

Countries Are Building Giant ‘Sand Motors’ to Protect Their Coasts From Erosion

This story originally appeared on Grist and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

When governments find themselves fighting the threat of coastal erosion, their default response tends to be pretty simple: If sand is disappearing from a beach, they pump in more sand to replace it. This strategy, known as “beach nourishment,” has become a cornerstone of coastal defenses around the world, complementing hard structures like sea walls. North Carolina, for instance, has dumped more than 100 million tons of sand onto its beaches over the past 30 years, at a cost of more than $1 billion.

The problem with beach nourishment is obvious. If you dump sand on an eroding beach, it’s only a matter of time before that new sand erodes. Then you have to do it all over again.

Beach nourishment projects are supposed to last for around five years, but they often disappear faster than expected. Moreover, a big coastal storm can wipe them out in a single night. And the costs are staggering: Dragging in new sand requires leasing and operating huge diesel dredge boats. Only the wealthiest areas can afford to do it year after year.

Now, after decades of reliance on repeated beach nourishment, a new strategy for managing erosion is showing up on coastlines around the world. It’s called the “sand motor,” and it comes from the Netherlands, a low-lying nation with centuries of experience in coastal protection.

A “sand motor” isn’t an actual motor—it’s a sculpted landscape that works with nature rather than against it. Instead of rebuilding a beach with an even line of new sand, engineers extend one section of the shoreline out into the sea at an angle.. Over time, the natural wave action of the ocean acts as a “motor” that pushes the sand from this protruding landmass out along the rest of the natural shoreline, spreading it down the coastline for miles.

While sand motors require much more upfront investment than normal beach nourishment—and many times more sand—they also protect more land and last much longer. Developed countries such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are turning to these megaprojects as an alternative to repeated nourishment, and the World Bank is financing a sand motor in West Africa as part of a billion-dollar adaptation program meant to fight sea-level rise. But these massive projects only work in areas where erosion is not yet at a critical stage. That means they’re unlikely to show up in the United States, where many coastal areas are already on the point of disappearing altogether.

The idea for the project came from a Dutch professor named Marcel Stive, who had watched with frustration as his country’s government spent billions to nourish the same coastal areas over and over again as sea levels kept rising. Stive presented the idea to the government, which hired a large dredging company called Boskalis to build a prototype on the shoreline south of The Hague.

Even this experimental project, which the Dutch call “de Zandmotor,” was an unprecedented undertaking. Boskalis dredged up around 28 million cubic yards of sand from the ocean floor—more than the Netherlands uses on nourishment projects nationwide in a given year. Engineers then sculpted the sand into a hook that curved eastward along the shore, ensuring that waves would push the sand northeast toward beaches near The Hague. They also created a lagoon in the middle of the sand structure so that locals wouldn’t have to walk for almost a mile to get to the water. In the years since Boskalis finished construction on the $50 million project, the hook of sand has flattened out, almost the way a wave breaks as it reaches the shore.

via Wired Top Stories

February 10, 2024 at 07:09AM