May 24, 2017 Chris Riddell

FUTURE TERRORISM | What is success on the edge of chaos?

Intelligence led policing is augmented

We can send man to the moon, we have cars that can drive themselves, and we have devices in our pockets that have an insane amount of capability, and connect us to almost every human being on planet earth.

With the advances in robotics, and cognitive computer technology you would be right in believing we are on the very edge of one of the most intelligent tipping points humanity has ever seen.

Yet, when it comes to human conflict and behaviour, we are fighting a war which we have little honest understanding of, and whilst broadly our security agencies succeed in preventing the majority of the incidents – predicting them is still something we have not yet mastered. If we want to get into true prevention, we must get predictive.

The horrific attack at the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena is only hours old. It is another reminder of the immeasurable challenge that our global security agencies face every day.

The question now is – Are we truly being intelligent enough with intelligence?

 In the UK alone, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley recently said there are on average 500 live counter-terrorism investigations going on at one time. Since 2013, the security services have prevented 13 attacks taking place on British soil.

Mark Rowley - Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard

Mark Rowley – Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard

Beyond the actual threats that have been neutralised, there are over 93,000 individuals who are on a blacklist and are being monitored on varying levels for unusual or threatening behaviour. Even more broadly, there are other intelligence databases such as ‘World Check’ by Thomson Reuters that contain more than 2.2 million names of individuals and organisations that are suspected of having links to terrorist organisations.

In the first 3 months of 2017, the terrorism hotline in the UK received more than 22,000 anonymous calls with tip offs and information from members of the public.

The numbers are staggering.

Australian efforts at protecting our future

In Australia, the data isn’t so publicly available. We do however know that Australian security services have prevented 11 major domestic terrorist incidents since September 2014, and convicted 23 individuals for their roles in planning havoc. It would be very safe to assume, there are hundreds of live investigations being worked on as you are reading this article.

The truth is, the far majority of all incidents are successfully handled before they even get anywhere close to reaching our televisions or social news feeds. Very few indeed, slip through the net, in comparison to the number of attempts being made on a daily basis.

Here in Australia we have well established teams of people working on understanding how to de-radicalise individuals as early as possible. Professor Greg Barton and Dr Clarke Jones are two of Australia’s most prominent counter terrorism researchers and they head up national research centre that investigates radicalisation and violent extremism at the grassroots level. They and their teams work very closely with our state and national security agencies. The data and insights they collect from the work they’ve been doing for years is another crucial part of deeply understanding the patterns of extremism that exist in our world today.

The other problem is, everything keeps changing on a second by second basis, the goal posts keep moving. Since the days of the IRA bombings in the UK, intelligence agencies have had to be hot on their feet with spotting the new methods terrorists are employing to create chaos. Terrorists thrive in chaos, they always have and always will.

There is however an issue that is getting bigger by the day, and that is technology. To put it simply – data.

 

Big Data. Big Problem.

In the world of business, we know the immense power that sits behind having data. We simply can’t get enough of it. We love it. It is our new oil. Business big and small are hoovering up data at every opportunity, and squeezing it through powerful, intelligent analytics platforms to give us insights into our customers, competitors and industry. We are swimming in data, and we’re only just touching the fringes of what is possible with it.

The issue facing our security agencies is almost identical, except for one major difference. They’re swamped in more data than than ever, and their ability to make it work is the difference between life and death.

When the algorithms aren’t quite right, or data gets ‘missed’ the results are catastrophic.

 

So what about predictive policing?

There are a few products out in the market which the policing agencies around the world have been trialling over the last few years, and many claim to be ‘predictive’ which is a stretch at best. It would be more accurate to say they are general forecasting platforms, and rely predominantly on historical crime data which is a very narrow view, has serious limits, and doesn’t even get close enough to being truly intelligent.

 

The two principles of augmented policing

The next era is moving from just forecasting and using ‘big data’ to digging deep into the human, individual layer of data. We need to get far more sophisticated in being able to process this information in realtime. Seconds matter.

The more data we can blend from multiple non-traditional sources, the more accurate the results will be.

IBM Watson is one of the worlds most advanced cognitive platforms

IBM Watson is one of the worlds most advanced cognitive platforms

The second part to making this work is we need to harness the exponential power of Artificial Intelligence to make this information work for us. Where we continue to rely on human analysts poring over information we are leaving ourselves badly exposed. Humans will always be the weak link in the equation.

Everything in our lives now wants to be connected online, with current estimates saying there will be over 50 billion internet connected devices by the year 2020. Every one of these devices are another source of data, and give insights into human behaviour and helps us predict the future more accurately.

 

Emotional Analytics hold a key to our future

Facial recognition technology now has the ability to detect our emotions, how we feel, our age, sex and identify us down to an individual level. Russian based NTchLab has a software system which monitors suspicious behaviour by looking at people’s emotional state.

The emotion recognition tool is a new part of NTechLab’s facial recognition software, which made the headlines last year when it was used to power the FindFace app that can track down anyone on Russian social network VKontakte from a photo.

NTechLab retains an aura of secrecy around its clients, which include security firms and retail businesses. But it is reportedly working with Moscow city government to add the recognition software to the capital’s 150,000 CCTV cameras.

 

What about privacy?

This is where the topic gets very divisive, and the privacy activists will already be hot under the collar. In 100 years I believe we will look back on this era we are in now and people will scratch their heads wondering why we were so resistant to information being made available to the people who are responsible for keeping us safe every day.

There were widespread protests in 2015 in France after the government introduced new surveillance powers in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks that killed 17 people. Some argued that it was too little too late, and that France’s lax attitude to intelligence gathering and counter terrorism efforts was still being challenged in the Nice attack just last year.

Many countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, and undoubtedly Australia are far more advanced with intelligence collection over the years. I would argue this is why we’ve seen a largely more positive response when it comes to combatting terror activities.

There is no finish line to this. We will never reach a point where it’s finished. If we want to continue to win this battle we will have to accept the inevitability of even more data being made accessible to the intelligence agencies around our world.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question or challenge the requests for information and what it is used for, and who is accessing it. It does however mean we should be realistic in knowing our safety truly depends on our ability to be open to change.

 

Is this a future of Minority Report?

One thing is for certain, the individuals and groups of people that are determined to cause chaos in our world are innovating and continually learning new ways to circumvent the systems in place we have today. We can’t afford to underestimate their capability to continue doing this in the future if we don’t do something different.

Are we being innovative enough in our quest to keep our nations safe and people alive? Or is bureaucracy and our ability to keep up with the pace of change standing in the way.

I’m not for a second suggesting that we get to a place in society where we are arresting people in their homes in the middle of the night for a crime that they might commit in 10 years time. That would be crazy, and frankly terrifying.

What I am saying however, is that true intelligence led policing with the power of cognitive computing will allow agencies to deal with actual threats in real-time. It will give our front line human intelligence officers the ability to truly understand what someone is doing, and when they plan on doing it, and neutralise the threat at the most critical moment.

If we want our children to be able to safely live in a world and have the same freedoms we have been used to – we must do something radically different to yesterday. Our future as humanity quite literally depends on it.

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