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AI and Data Science Lab to tackle abhorrent content in investigations

Monash University and the Australian Federal Police have launched an initiative designed to help officers scan through thousands of confronting images and files faster, and with lower levels of emotional distress.

As reported, the Artificial Intelligence for Law Enforcement and Community Safety (AiLECS) Lab is part of the new Monash Data Futures initiative that will train and empower the next generation of scientists to use artificial intelligence (AI) and data science for social good.

About the initiative

Supported by AU$ 2.5 million in funding, researcher from the University’s Faculty of Information Technology have worked with the AFP.

Together, they developed a specialised machine learning algorithm to identify and classify content on seized devices like mobile phones and computers, before going to investigators for review.

The initial focus of the project will be on child exploitation material.

However, the software will also be rolled out over time to cover content from terrorism cases that can cause significant psychological distress for investigators.

AiLECS Lab Co-Director and Federal Agent, Dr Janis Dalins, shared that the ultimate goal is to ethically research the use of machine learning and data analytics in advancing law enforcement and community safety.

Benefits to be gained

The automated detection of abhorrent material augments workplace safety by going some way towards reducing the incidental and inadvertent exposure to such material by law enforcement practitioners.

Additionally, ‘Data Airlock’ will allow real-world data to be available to researchers.

It is a system that will enable researchers globally to develop and test machine learning algorithms without being exposed to confronting data.

It was built in partnership with CSIRO’s Data61 and is hosted at the University.

AiLECS Lab Co-Director and Associate Dean (International) in the University’s Faculty of Information Technology, Dr Campbell Wilson, explained that this will collectively make the process of copying, automatically reviewing and making the data available to investigators quicker than existing procedures.

Machine learning provides benefits that include speed and portability, hundreds of images per second, for instance.

However, it will not outperform the accuracy of experienced human investigators, which are essential to each case.

The AFP Commissioner shared that AiLECS Lab would be supporting the agency’s vision, which is policing for a safer Australia, in multiple and significant ways.

The initiative is ground-breaking and will minimise AFP officer exposure to child exploitation material and other distressing content.

Furthermore, it will vastly increase the speed and volume at which police can identify and classify this content.

The AiLECS Lab will therefore guarantee that more people will be held accountable for these abhorrent crimes.

Just as importantly, it will better safeguard the wellbeing of both AFP officers and the community that they are serving.

Forming international partnerships

The work of this lab draws on expertise beyond computer science and AI, such as law and criminology, so as to contribute to community safety worldwide.

International partnerships are already developing, with significant interest being expressed from government, industry and academia.

The AiLECS Lab is just one example of how Monash Data Futures will power the University’s work in data science and AI.

Co-led by the faculties of Information Technology and Science, but operating as a University-level institute, Monash Data Futures brings together data science and AI capabilities across the University.

It will create a blended physical, digital and virtual ecosystem for collaborative research, industry engagement and innovative education.

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