Opinion: Verification is the only way to establish effective surveillance security.

Licence Plate Recognition (LPR) systems and large-scale Artificial Intelligence-powered surveillance networks are becoming more widespread in South Africa, from highways, estates, and big cities, to smallholdings and rural backroads or industrial applications. We are undoubtedly evangelists for the technology, it’s a major game-changer in intelligence gathering, busting syndicates, and recovering stolen vehicles. However, we want to make it clear that technology and databases alone don’t catch criminals, and an over-reliance on the tech, without the expertise of trained operatives to verify the accuracy of the information, remains just that, information. Potentially misleading, open-ended, and possibly time-wasting intel.

Let us explain our reasoning. We’ve been experts in this field in South Africa for more than a decade, and we have seen this technology grow up from its infancy in select areas, to the large-scale operations that are currently running in the country, and worldwide. As the capabilities of this technology improve, so too does the demands on these systems. We have collectively created ultra-efficient Artificial Intelligence-driven detection software, capable of detecting and determining the legitimacy of tens of thousands of vehicles each day, yet determining what to do with the information gathered must ultimately fall on people to do.

The human element:

It may sound counter-intuitive, but the only way to create near-perfect security systems is to accept the fact that even the best technology and the best trained people have their own limitations. Through training on how to use the technology effectively, and by establishing an understanding of the technology’s strengths and weaknesses, the ‘Human Element’ can be the fundamental key ingredient to overcome the technology’s shortcomings. Without the human element, technology is only as good as the programming it was given. A machine programmed to cut down trees with the intention of clearing a section will level the whole forest without the human element knowing when to stop. If you are a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding people have when it comes to modern LPR and remote monitoring surveillance systems. They assume that this technology is separate from people, and will ultimately overtake humanity. From working with this technology for more than a decade, we have realized that Artificial Intelligence (A.I) driven systems are intertwined with its human counterparts and that this technology is more akin to an augmentation of the capabilities of a human worker. We therefore believe in a human-centric approach to security systems. Human decision-making and verification based on information highlighted by A.I driven technology is the way forward.

Off-site monitoring and LPR:

We have noted that on our database of alerts from private, corporate, and community-based clientele, that approximately 40 % of all alerts are classified as “False reads/legit clones/recovered stolen vehicles”. This doesn’t mean that the technology is faulty, on the contrary, it is working exactly as designed. What it can’t overcome is the human fallibility aspect.

People are forgetful, make mistakes, and have busy schedules or limited capabilities. It takes a human to see if an alert is legitimate, or if it is a result of Human error (on the behalf of the general public, or issues with the vehicle licensing system). Potential clients think of this technology as plug-in-and-play, yet some people still do not mitigate their risk by using our verification! The statistic above, from one dataset alone (not even thinking about large-scale governmental/ national databases), demonstrates how the implementation of advanced technology, without the expertise to back it up, could lead to clients ‘shooting themselves in the foot”.

Conclusion:

Without having the ability to back up claims of false plates, or the ability to compare data captured with large databases, isolated LPR and CCTV technology can create false reports (leading to potential legal implications), and waste client and police time. Valuable time that should be clamping down on credible threats and alerts. People use our services so that problems like these can be dealt with accordingly, and so that they have real peace of mind, knowing that the technology they have implemented has experienced operators giving it the time and skills your security system needs.