Evolv’s AI weapon scanner is gaining popularity

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When Peter George saw the news of the racially motivated mass shooting at the Tops supermarket in Buffalo on May 14, he had the thought that often occurred to him after such tragedies.

“Can our system stop him?” He said. “I don’t know. But I think we could democratize security so that someone who plans to hurt people can’t easily get into an unsuspecting place.”

George is the CEO of Evolv Technology, an artificial intelligence-based system designed to mark weapons, “democratizing security” so that weapons can be kept away from public places without complex checkpoints.

As gun violence in the United States as a species is observed in Buffalo and now Uwalde, Texas, is growing – firearms sales reached record highs in 2020 and 2021, while the Arms Violence Archive reports at least 198 mass shootings since January. so far – Evolv is becoming increasingly popular, used in schools, stadiums, shops and other gathering places.

Its growing use in schools was eased on Tuesday with the shooting at Rob Elementary School, which killed at least 21 people, including 19 children.

For its supporters, the system is a more efficient and less intrusive alternative to the age-old metal detector, making events both safer and more enjoyable to visit. For his critics, however, the effectiveness of Evolv has hardly been proven. And this opens the Pandora’s box of ethical issues, in which convenience is paid for with RoboCop surveillance.

“The idea of ​​a better, gentler metal detector is a good theory solution to these horrific shootings,” said Jay Stanley, senior political analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union’s project on Speech, Privacy and Technology. “But do we really want to create more ways for security to invade our privacy?” Do we want to turn every Mall or Little League game into an airport?

Evolv machines use “active reading” – a technique for emitting light, which also supports radar and lidar – to create images. He then applies AI to examine them. Researchers at Waltham, Massachusetts, created “signatures” (usually visual drawings) and trained AI to compare them to scanner images.

Executives say the result is an intelligent system that can “spot” a weapon without anyone having to stop and empty their pockets in a sound machine. When the system identifies a suspicious element by a group of people passing through it, it outlines an orange field around it in a live video of the person entering. Only then will a security guard looking at a nearby tablet approach for more inspection.

Dan Donovan, a veteran security consultant who rents Evolv systems to event clients, says allowing the security to focus on fewer threats avoids the fatigue that metal detector operators may feel. Like other consultants, he noted that no system would likely stop the Buffalo shooter from firing in the parking lot.

Users can expect to see Evolv much more. Sports franchises like the Tennessee Titans and Carolina Panthers now use it; and the New York Mets and Columbus Crew. The SoFi Stadium’s Super Bowl placed him on the outside perimeter in February. In New York, public art institutions such as the Lincoln Center are trying it. So is the municipal hospital. (New York City Mayor Eric Adams advertises it as a potential subway security measure, but small spaces and disturbances in the underground signal make this less plausible. Airports with stricter standards are also unlikely.)

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg North Carolina School System with 150,000 students has also licensed Evolv. Theme parks are also excited – all 27 Six Flags parks across the country are already using it. Evolv has already performed 250 million scans, said to be 100 million in September.

George believes that accuracy and lack of friction make Evolv fascinating. “Nobody wants a prison or an airport wherever they go, which you have with a dumb analog metal detector,” he said. “And the price of doing nothing increases with each passing day.”

The company, which went public last year, has raised at least $ 400 million, with investors including Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, Peyton Manning and Andre Agassi. (The space is growing, with the system from Italian competitor CEIA also gaining popularity.) Relying mainly on the four-year subscriptions it sells, Evolv more than doubled its revenue in the first quarter to $ 8.7 million compared to 2021, but also more than doubled its losses to $ 18.2 million.

Retail stores are an attractive use case, George said, because people want to feel safe shopping, but they don’t want to be stopped and checked every time they come in to buy groceries. (About 60 people can be scanned every minute, Evolv says.) George said that when the system was installed in a mall in Atlanta, Lenox Square, in January, it caught 57 weapons in the first four hours.

In total, George said, at least 15,000 weapons were designated by Evolv in the first quarter of 2022. (These numbers have not been publicly verified.)

But IPVM, security trading publication, concluded after a review that Evolv has “fundamental technological limitations in distinguishing good-quality objects from actual weapons.” One problem, IPVM said, citing the company’s research, is that some metal objects confuse AI, including the particularly robustly designed Google Chromebook.

IPVM says Evolv did not provide enough data. The publication also says that the company will not commit to it due to its inquiries; writes that the company has even asked to stop reporting on Evolv in the name of public safety.

In a statement to The Washington Post on the conflict, Evolv said: “We believe that publishing a schematic of any security screening technology is irresponsible and makes the public less safe by providing unnecessary insights to those who may try to use information to cause harm “

Alan Cowen, a former Google scientist and artificial intelligence expert, says he would also worry about “examples of hostility” in which bad actors learn how to bypass AI – say, by putting a ribbon around the pistol grip – as and the delay I understand this because Evolv will not mark it.

Some technoethicists say that accuracy is just a fear.

“If it can reduce false positives while capturing real positives, that seems like a benefit,” said Jamais Kashio, author and founder of Open the Future, a technology research organization. “My concern is what happens when you go beyond the search for weapons at a concert – when someone decides to add any information about the scanned person or if we go into protest and a government agency can now use the system to track and register us. We know what the metal detector can and cannot tell us. We have no idea how this can be used. “

George says no data is applied to the object being scanned and information is not captured or cataloged. In terms of accuracy, he admits that the Chromebook was a problem, but says the algorithm is improving. He suggests that students may simply realize that they need to be kept on the way to school to pay a small price. “Why shouldn’t there be a system where children can study safely and also enter without breaking their stride?” He asked.

However, whether this will be possible in large areas such as Charlotte-Mecklenburg remains to be seen. Requests for comment from the police department, which monitors the security of the area, were not returned.

Several Evolv The Post customers said they were happy with the system.

“We’ve moved from 30 metal detector lines to four lanes and we don’t stop people for every cell phone or house key,” said Jason Freeman, vice president of security, safety, health and the environment at Six Flags. He said the total number of suspensions had risen from 32 per cent to 15 per cent, with the vast majority still not considered threats. The idea is not just to grab more weapons; it’s wasting less time on everything else.

Mark Hayser, site director for the Denver Performing Arts Complex, says the system is light years ahead of the metal detector. “We would never go back,” he said.

Heiser cites fewer alarms for items such as pen knives – “which is good because it allows us to focus on [the more destructive weapons]He noted that many members of the audience feel freer when they enter.

But Stanley of the ACLU remains unconvinced.

“Fine devices are a good thing. But they can also be more insidious or even just annoying, “he said. “You will be shocked by the fact that the umbrella tucked in your coat pocket suddenly leads to a meeting with a security guard.”

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