200 milliseconds to recognize a threat

As humans, we have pretty good antennas that help us sense when a situation becomes dangerous, or that alert us when people behave suspiciously.

A recent study conducted by the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris discovered that there is in fact a region of our brain which can perceive dangerous situations or threatening faces in just 200 milliseconds, a sort of “sixth sense” originating from a legacy of our primordial survival instinct when facing fear or panic.

The study shows that such an ‘alarm signal’ is processed by the brain circuits that are responsible for facial recognition. This reminded me of the weapon focus discussed in one of my earlier posts about an eyewitness’s ability to accurately describe weapons involved in a crime, while they struggle to remember details about the appearance of the perpetrator.

Cameras can learn

When the image quality is good, who knows, that sixth sense might even be triggered in a security operator watching live video footage on a monitor. In some cities, real-time control center operators are already trained to understand crowd dynamics and behavior. And, if an operator can learn, then could a software algorithm learn as well?

What if network cameras, thanks to an intelligent memory storage system that records recurrent and frequent everyday actions in the monitored area, could automatically recognize suspicious, unusual or atypical attitudes and detect possible perpetrations before they even happen? It might sound futuristic, but it is a possibility that is being discussed.

Meanwhile, the human ability to memorize faces is subject to many variables and not always reliable, so the support of a camera can be crucial.

Investigating and understanding incidents

Reading about the research study also made me look at video surveillance, facial recognition and perimeter protection from a different perspective. Perhaps we humans only need 200 milliseconds for that “sixth sense” to alert us, but if we want to verify, stop and investigate incidents properly then we need more time, more tools and more memory. This is where technology takes over, with cameras helping verify a possible intruder’s identity, and lights or loudspeakers acting as deterrents.

When it comes to investigation, it’s important to consider that there are different profiles of perpetrators, with their own skills, tools and techniques. With security solutions adapted to the task, the combination of thermal and optical network cameras, horn speakers and video intercoms can bring a significant improvement in the understanding of criminal identity and behavior, rather than just detecting the crime itself.

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