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The AI That Prepared Astronauts for Space Could Now Help Fight Crime

The technology could help usher justice systems into a new era as soon as mid-2018.

Christianna ReedyJanuary 21st 2018

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What do the International Space Station (ISS) and the Belgian police force have in common? If you said integrated approaches to machine learning, you’d be correct! Artificial intelligence (AI) systems that were developed to prepare astronauts for space are now being employed to solve crimes. European law enforcement agents believe the technology has the potential to help them more efficiently sift through data, recreate crime scenes, and identify leads.

The earliest version of this system was developed by Space Applications Services almost 15 years ago. It was designed to answer questions such as “What is this?” and “Where is this?” from astronauts-in-training in the European Space Agency (ESA) Columbus research laboratory.

Alexander follows instructions from the computer during his mission to ISS in 2014. Image Credit: ESA/NASA
Alexander Gerst follows instructions from the computer during his mission to ISS in 2014. Image Credit: ESA/NASA

The technology advanced rapidly in the following years, leading to the recent engineering of an intelligent mobile crew assistant. This bot is scheduled to undergo testing later in 2018 with Alexander Gerst, the next ESA astronaut to be sent into space.

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The potential for AI to reduce ground operations and associated costs, as well as the possibility that it could lower risks for human personnel, have piqued the interest not only of space agencies but law enforcement agencies as well.

Space Applications Services began to pivot the AI toward security applications when it developed a tool that allowed it to answer most factual questions as well as display the results visually. The machine intelligence became capable of combing through thousands of hours of security camera footage and pulling up specific video feeds upon request.

Belgian police are currently evaluating software that could be applied to data from a vast spectrum of sources, including text records and social media, bringing up results within seconds. The technology’s ability to complete labor-intensive crime analysis with just a simple click means it could help usher justice systems into a new era — perhaps as soon as mid-2018.

And Belgian is just the latest country to apply AI to law enforcement. China is also exploring whether it can use predictive AI to identify the citizens who are most likely to commit crimes, and Dubai is introducing robotic police officers. Across the world, more and more nations are looking to the latest tech to keep their citizens safe.

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