Up Front 05/10

Sitting in a family restaurant in North Devon recently I noticed a CCTV camera in the corner of the room. As it was just above where my children were sitting I pointed it out to them, joking that it was there to ensure they used their knives and forks properly. Their immediate and predictable reaction was to wave at the camera. Earlier we had seen a sign at the door saying ‘Well behaved children welcome’. As I paid the bill, I was able to watch the streamed images of my children polishing off the last of their ice cream. Disconcerting as they are, the camera and its images are a part of life for future generations, but modern technology, using sound bites, tweets, texts and grainy videos, can obviously only highlight a fraction of an event or thought process. Which is what makes a new software system, currently being researched by representatives from five European countries, even more disconcerting. The software is being designed to predict the actions of people viewed on CCTV. It will track their movement; monitor their behaviour; and, in the case of high quality footage taken at close quarters, it will detect changes in facial expression. The hope is that it will be able to determine, by motion and expression, whether a crime may have been, or may be about to be committed. Researchers are hoping the system will allow a virtual 3D representation of an event to be created, giving operators the opportunity to predict, in real time, what might happen next. Obviously there will be huge benefits and the goal of the project is to help stop crime, prevent injuries and even save lives, but technological advances tend to have many uses. How long before the CCTV operator comes to the table to point out that the children are about to put too much salt on their chips?