Army Swimming in Sensors and Drowning in Data




On Sunday I wrote a small post about how UK company Prozone captures all English Premier League soccer matches on video and then uses that footage to create a database of every shot, pass, tackle and assist made by every player (according to a comment on that post Opta Sports are powering the Guardian Chalkboard – sorry I got that wrong).  That’s a lot of data.  However, as I found out in the New York Times this morning, this is nothing compared to the volume of footage captured by the US Airforce spy drones.  Apparently it would take one person 24 years to watch all the surveillance footage captured in Afghanistan in 2009.  According to the article, the Army has a group of young soldiers watching every second of this footage live in order to detect suspicious activities. 


The Army expects the volume of footage to grow exponentially in the near future as new drones are being deployed that can film at up to 65 different angles.  Processing all that footage will soon become unmanageable.  The Airforce top intelligence official LT. Gen. A. Deptula said the army could soon be “swimming in sensors and drowning in data”.  So they are looking for new analytical techniques that can help reduce the volume of footage that needs to be analyzed by the human eye.  Now where do you think they started their quest for this technology?  You got it – the sports networks. Apparently Army officials have been shadowing the ESPN broadcast trucks outside football stadiums to learn how the TV network is tagging and retrieving all the highlights in their NFL footage.  It sounds like Opta Sports and Prozone have just found a second market.


One Army official called out the limitations of automated recognition technologies for the Army.  He said that when it comes to the use of force “You need somebody who’s trained and is accountable in recognizing that that is a woman, that is a child and that is someone who’s carrying a weapon.  And the best tools for that are still the eyeball and the human brain.”  But even if technology can identify the 10% of footage that needs to be analyzed by humans it would still make a big difference.


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