Intelligence: Beating The Boredom Barrier


May 6,2008: The proliferation of video cameras on the battlefield (in UAVs, ground robots and for base security) has created a severe case of eyeball fatigue. All those cameras produce millions of hours of video, which has to be examined by humans, to find whatever useful may be there. Tests have shown that people staring at live security feeds start losing their ability to concentrate on the video after about twenty minutes. This problem has been known for some time, and the military (not to mention civilian security firms) have been seeking a technological solution. It's actually not as bad with UAVs, because the picture constantly changes, but cameras that are fixed can wear operators out real quick.

The basic tech solution is pattern analysis. Since the most common video is digital, it's possible to translate the video into numbers, and then analyze those numbers. Government security organizations have been doing this for some time, but after the fact. It's one thing to have a bunch of computers analyze satellite photos for a week, to see if there was anything useful there. It's quite another matter to do it in real time. But computers have gotten faster, cheaper and smaller in the last few years, and programmers have kept coming up with more efficient routines for analyzing the digital images.

While some military analysis does not have to be real time (like the system used in Iraq to compare today's and yesterdays photos of a road to see if a bomb may have been planted), the most common need is for real time analysis. Several times a year now, a new software package shows up that does that, or tries to. These systems are getting better. Many can definitely beat your average human observer over time (several hours of viewing video). Apparently, the real time analysis software will evolve. First it will be used as an adjunct to human observers, and gradually taking over. There will always be a human in the loop, to confirm what the software believes it has found.




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