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Evolv Technology’s AI monitors public venues for weapons

The news: Evolv Technology thinks its AI can help stem the epidemic of mass shootings in public spaces.

  • The Massachusetts-based company developed a scanning machine to replace conventional metal detectors, bypassing the need for people to stop and empty their pockets.
  • The technology deploys an “active sensing” light-emission technique using radar and lidar to create images that are then examined by an AI, per The Washington Post.
  • Evolv says its system can identify a concealed weapon on someone who walks through the scanner and prompt security to intervene.
  • The AI scanners are already deployed at public places like Citi Field, Lincoln Center, The Museum of Natural History, and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in New York.

How we got here: The US has a major mass shooting problem with high casualties, occurring in churches, schools, and grocery stores.

  • The second-deadliest school shooting in US history happened at an elementary school in Texas on Tuesday, just over a week after 10 people were shot and killed at a grocery store in Buffalo.
  • There were 61 mass shooting incidents in the US in 2021, nearly a 100% leap from the 32 incidents in 2017. And 213 US mass shootings have already occurred this year, per NPR.

False positives: Although Evolv’s AI scanners are a low-profile way to detect firearms, inaccuracies could lead to chaotic scenes in busy places.

  • New York City is considering deploying AI weapons detectors in the subway system. However, false positives could potentially mean scores of people unnecessarily detained for screening during their daily commute.
  • Data on Evolv’s system shows that of 190,000 alerts, 172,000 were benign objects like umbrellas and laptops. Only 0.8% of the alerts were weapons, per New York Focus.

Not a panacea: Despite the false positives, AI detection systems can learn to more accurately identify weapons over time and potentially ferret out attempts at evasion, such as someone modifying a gun’s shape.

  • Considering one Evolv scanner runs between $2,000 and $3,000 per month, according to NY Focus, they won’t be ubiquitous, and those plotting mass shootings could opt for places with less surveillance.
  • Furthermore, as there are more gun deaths in states with weaker gun control, per Sky News, areas with lax weapon laws could still allow guns in public spaces even with scanners.
  • While technologies like Evolv’s could help monitor weapons in the public sphere, privacy is at stake.
  • AI’s deployment in the workplace has already triggered ethics concerns. For weapons detection, anyone riding the subway or going to a sporting event would be subject to AI scrutiny, raising questions about how the data could be misused.
  • Alternatively, if lawmakers passed legislation applying AI to universal background checks for gun ownership, the scanners could potentially have fewer weapons to detect. In that scenario, the AI could improve detection of red flags based on the buyer’s history.