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HK to use AI for smart prisons

Image credits: The South China Morning Post, News Article

A Hong Kong tech start-up hopes to help prevent suicide attempts and violence in prisons through the use of artificial intelligence, a recent report noted. This comes as the government and private enterprises in the city step up use of AI to build smart city infrastructure.

What prompted the firm to go from deep learning and to rule-based behavioural analytics to detect signs of potentially negative behaviour was a general lack of data on these kinds of behaviour, according to the company’s Founder and Executive Director.

The tech firm has developed a video analytics system for the city’s Correctional Services Department. The system uses AI-powered cameras which help detect suspicious behaviour among large numbers of inmates, including self-harm and fighting.

The system compares and analyses suspicious patterns of behaviour via camera images automatically and without human involvement. For example, gatherings of inmates or if a prisoner is standing next to windows with a rope or hitting their head against a wall. In such cases, the system will alert physical officers to the danger and they can make an intervention.

More than 40 cameras with the AI system were installed in February 2019 in Pik Uk Prison, a minimum-security prison in Hong Kong’s Sai Kung district, as part of a “smart prison” project and more cameras are expected to be rolled out to other institutions soon.

An AI veteran from Hong Kong established the firm in 2018; it focuses on vision-based AI applications for Hong Kong and the mainland market, leveraging technologies from an existing fir by the same founder.

The company is also exploring the use of facial recognition in exercise yards and workshops, where the technology can monitor and manage a large group of inmates from a distance.

Apart from the video surveillance system developed by the tech firm, the Correctional Services Department is also testing smart wristbands to monitor the health of inmates and robotic arms to detect drugs in human faeces, under the “smart prison” initiative.

The smart prison project forms part of wider smart city initiatives that the region’s Chief Executive raised in her policy address in October 2018 to equip law enforcement agencies with new technology and boost efficiency.

Businesses and public organisations in Hong Kong are increasingly adopting AI as the government continues to encourage the creation of a world-class smart city in mobility, living, environment, public service and other fields.

In 2018, prisons in Hong Kong reported two deaths by suicide out of 48 cases of self-harm, and a total of 483 cases involving violent acts, including fighting among prisoners and assaults on prison officers, according to data from the Correctional Services Department in February 2019.

The tech firm’s founder is impressed by how Hong Kong weighs the security and protection of inmates against their potential to offend again, saying it compared favourably in this regard to other parts of the world.

The tech firm’s head has been involved in many smart prison projects across the world, but Hong Kong is very unique in caring really deeply about the security and protection of inmates. The request to monitor self-harm has not been received from elsewhere. Most of the other projects are more focused on monitoring escapes and fights.

In addition, the tech firm is also deploying AI technology to help the subway system with preventive maintenance, by detecting abnormalities in frequently used machines and equipment, such as escalators and lifts.

The tech firm is confident that the use of vision-based AI will increase. Apart from fixed video surveillance, cameras are increasingly being installed on moving devices such as smartphones, glasses, and drones among others, which would require less computing power to make real-time recognition and tracking.

While the deployment of AI is on the rise, however, the city retains its pragmatic approach to the technology.

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