AI helps scour video archives for evidence of human-rights abuses

The Economist: “Thanks especially to ubiquitous camera-phones, today’s wars have been filmed more than any in history. Consider the growing archives of Mnemonic, a Berlin charity that preserves video that purports to document war crimes and other violations of human rights. If played nonstop, Mnemonic’s collection of video from Syria’s decade-long war would run until 2061. Mnemonic also holds seemingly bottomless archives of video from conflicts in Sudan and Yemen. Even greater amounts of potentially relevant additional footage await review online.

Outfits that, like Mnemonic, scan video for evidence of rights abuses note that the task is a slog. Some trim costs by recruiting volunteer reviewers. Not everyone, however, is cut out for the tedium and, especially, periodic dreadfulness involved. That is true even for paid staff. Karim Khan, who leads a United Nations team in Baghdad investigating Islamic State (IS) atrocities, says viewing the graphic cruelty causes enough “secondary trauma” for turnover to be high. The UN project, called UNITAD, is sifting through documentation that includes more than a year’s worth of video, most of it found online or on the phones and computers of captured or killed IS members.

Now, however, reviewing such video is becoming much easier. Technologists are developing a type of artificial-intelligence (AI) software that uses “machine vision” to rapidly scour video for imagery that suggests an abuse of human rights has been recorded. It’s early days, but the software is promising. A number of organisations, including Mnemonic and UNITAD, have begun to operate such programs.

This year UNITAD began to run one dubbed Zeteo. It performs well, says David Hasman, one of its operators. Zeteo can be instructed to find—and, if the image resolution is decent, typically does find—bits of video showing things like explosions, beheadings, firing into a crowd and grave-digging. Zeteo can also spot footage of a known person’s face, as well as scenes as precise as a woman walking in uniform, a boy holding a gun in twilight, and people sitting on a rug with an IS flag in view. Searches can encompass metadata that reveals when, where and on what devices clips were filmed….(More)”.