This Crime-Solving AI Was Originally Developed To Help Astronauts-In-Training



Your local police force's newest recruit could be more machine than human. Security departments in the UK and Belgium are, right now, testing an artificial intelligence (AI) program that will take on the arduous task of sifting through potential evidence (a process that is usually completed manually) to help solve crimes. Rather bizarrely, VALCRI (Visual Analytics for Sense-Making in Criminal Intelligence) was built from software originally designed to prepare trainee-astronauts for stints in space.

Early versions of the system were developed 15 years ago by a company called Space Applications Services and its purpose was to train junior astronauts at the European Space Agency (ESA) Columbus research laboratory (a research facility attached to the International Space Station). It does this by responding to questions such as “What is this?” and “Where is this?”.


Later this year, a more advanced version of the technology – an intelligent mobile crew assistant – will be tested by Alexander Gerst, the next ESA astronaut to travel to space.

But programmers have also discovered a new use for the tech – security. Recent upgrades have allowed it to take on police work.

The tool combines machine-learning technology with visual analytics to allow for real-time analytic data interaction. This means VALCRI is able to surf through thousands of hours of surveillance camera videos and examine millions of police records to dig up clues and find connections that can help with the case, sparing crime analysts the backbreaking task of having to do it all manually. It may also help to speed along investigations and predict future crimes by drawing attention to information and connections humans miss. 

In 2017, the company announced that the AI program was undergoing a trial funded by the European Union and taking place in the West Midlands, UK. It involves analyzing three years' worth of real but anonymized crime data, which amounts to roughly 6.5 million records in total. The next stage will be to use non-anonymized, new data in real-time i.e. when the crimes are taking place.


Similar tests are also taking place in Antwerp, Belgium, and, according to Space Daily, the software could become a commercial product by the middle of this year.

This is not the first time AI has been put to the task of crime solving. Last year, a supercomputer was programmed to find out the identity of the elusive Zodiac Killer – and took up poetry writing as a side hobby.


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