August 18, 2022

Steps & Stages

Let's Talk Technology

Can Technology Help Stop Mass Shootings?

There were 13 mass shooting over this weekend in the United States, killing as many and injuring over 70. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there has been as many as 247 mass shootings to date in 2022. That’s about 1.5 shootings per day, and a shocking 35 since the horrific massacre at the school in Uvalde, Texas on May 24. 

I am reminded of that one question one of the audience members asked during a panel discussion on location technologies at a conference I was attending last week – “With all this data and technology available to us, how could we have stopped the Texas school shooting?”

It was a sombre moment for the panel as well as the audience. A very engaging discussion followed, including talks about real-time location dispatch including Z-axis information to 911 calls, and possible social media profiling of users. Predictably, the discussion hit a wall on issues of privacy when it came to user profiling. Sure, a lot of concerns around data privacy violations and possible racial profiling of users are valid. But let’s accept it, gun restriction laws are far from being a reality given how deeply divided America continues to be over the issue. Given this, it’s time to focus on the role that available and affordable technology can play in helping to mitigate and respond to shooting incidents. 

Universal background checks enjoy high levels of public support cutting across party lines; making it mandatory nationwide could help. However, this shouldn’t stop at just the scrutiny of a buyer’s background to check criminal history and/or history of mental illness. There have been suggestions that AI could be used to try to identify troubled people who could be potential risks of carrying out a mass shooting.

This is also where the power of social media companies comes  helping in identifying potential threats. Advancements in AI and machine learning can today help mine terabytes of data quickly and accurately, which social media networks use regularly for location-based advertising. If they can use their analytics to tell us which shoe or pizza we might be interested in buying based on our online behaviors, these analytics can also be used to forewarn the authorities if any of the users are displaying concerning activities, and their location. 

It is often said with great power comes great responsibility. Companies sitting with behavioral data of billions, can surely do little more than suspending a user’s account for “violating internal policies”.

There also exist computer vision algorithms, AI software and CCTV camera which claim to offer gun detection technologies. What is required is a coordinated strategy by the government to engage with the private sector to educate themselves about deploying some of these available technologies, and further educate and incentivize the local government and communities to deploy them at all possible places – in schools, colleges, shopping malls, banks, community centers.

The technology exists. What is required is a bit of political will and lots of coordination among various agencies and private technology providers. 

Can Technology Help Stop Mass Shootings?