12 January 2010

Soldiers Drowning in Video Data Could Receive Life Vest or Smoking Gun

A New York Times story by Christopher Drew brought to a wider public audience the challenges of an ever-increasing volume of video and other sensor data from unmanned aerial and other surveillance systems. The issue has been covered in depth in defense-oriented media outlets, but the Times' decision to run this article now may be related to reports of increased use of drone strikes by the Obama Administration. The Times own Scott Shane reported in early December 2009 that more UAS strikes had been carried out by the Obama Administration than in the Bush Admininstration's conduct of the Afghan war.

Life Vests Some improved technologies are already available and are being moved to the battlefield.  Not only operators at Creech AFB or Langley but soldiers in the field may benefit from improved ISR

Those who choose to dig a little deeper will learn that the issue is more complex than the Times article suggests.  Some added complexities include:
  • Exploding domestic uses of video data, especially in high-surveillance societies such as Great Britain, are part of the bigger picture, not only military uses.
  • Challenges of standardization continue to stymie attempts to leverage commercial video image processing systems .
  • As students of business intelligence would attest, making sense of data from any single source is problemmatic, and correlating video data with episodic or static non-video data gathered at different times and locations is especially difficult.
  • There's more to information fusion than "connecting dots."   Data can be unreliable, field reports can be incorrect.  There are numerous psychological factors such those affecting eyewitness testimony.
Smoking Gun There is as yet limited sousveillance (inverse surveillance) to validate the appropriateness of decisions made as a result of video data, but such digital records, whether collected by the military itself or third parties, should be expected.  As the notorious Rodney King trial demonstrated, a video record of an event become important, despite, or precisely because of its ambiguity. In retrospect it may not be so clear whether all the targets of lethal force ("warheads on foreheads") were legitimate wartime objectives.

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