Ethical Surveillance: Artificial Intelligence Security Cameras Spot Guns to Prevent Mass Shootings

Innovative AI-powered security cameras system can alert about guns in real-time possibly preventing shootings before they happen.
Susan Fourtané
AI-powered gun detectionAthena Security 

In 2015, journalist Nicholas Kristof writing in his column in the New York Times about gun violence in the United States said that "more Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in the American history." 

According to IHS Markit, a London-based global information provider, by the year 2021, there will be one billion surveillance cameras going live. What are the ethical implications of having a billion security cameras watching us at every step? What is going to be the ethical use of these cameras, and how can this be used to save lives and make cities safer? These and other crucial questions come to mind when we think about the use of mass surveillance in the future.

For instance, how could CCTV help and be more efficient in public places such as schools, places of worship, and nightclubs --to mention just a few-- when criminal attacks by individuals carrying small weapons of the likes of guns and knives take place unexpectedly?

The United States has been and continues to be the world's main playground for individual and mass shootings. From the astonishing news of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 to the most recent Pensacola Navy base shooting in December 2019 --and everything in between-- these acts of violence have shocked the world. Criminals carrying guns and murdering innocent people, including children and school teachers, is not something new to this century.

One of the most shocking shootings in history happened in December 1980, when John Lennon, the former songwriter, member of the band The Beatles, and peace activist who wrote and sang Imagine and Give Peace a Chance to several generations was shot dead in cold blood right at the entrance of his home at the Dakota Building in New York City.

Sadly, 40 years after that event, not much has changed in the United States. On the contrary. These kinds of attacks have escalated from individual shootings to frequent mass shootings in the past few years. If we think about it, there has not been a dedicated technology that were able to detect guns --rather than facial recognition detecting human faces-- and immediately alerting police of an attack before it actually happens. However, this is about to change.  

Lisa Falzone, CEO of Athena Security, is a businesswoman and serial entrepreneur who is actively working to help stop mass shootings. By making existing surveillance cameras smart, it is possible now for the first time to accurately recognize guns, knives, and spot criminal acts at schools, places of worship, and other public places as well as terrorist targets. This is a huge step in surveillance technology as well as citizen security. 

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Not all surveillance is evil AI-powered facial recognition

Athena security AI gun detection
Alerting of the presence of a gun in real-time, Athena Security technology system acts in real-time before something bad can happen, Source: Athena Security 

Athena Security's new AI-powered technology is not like the CCTV cameras with facial recognition you normally see all over the cities, office buildings, and public places. According to the company's CEO, the technology is able to alert only for criminal objects while human faces are blurred and personal ID is ignored. The technology detects threats in real-time and acts before something bad happens. 

"Athena Security ethically uses computer vision to focus only on accurately alerting when a gun, weapon, or criminal act is committed," Lisa Falzone tells Interesting Engineering. "There's no reason to capture personal information because we're focused on saving lives by eliminating the time it takes police, medical, and local staff to react. The analogy we often make is that we're more like a fire alarm, except we alert for weapons. In addition, we also blur faces so that the security data can't be used for other [purposes]," she says.  

According to Falzone, no data goes to the cloud, all data is kept in-house and never used for profit or ulterior motives. "Our focus is to keep our customers safe and save lives so we align our product with only those directives. Security footage stays on local drives and is never monetized," she says. She explains how by alerting only for criminal objects human faces are blurred and personal ID is ignored.

Artificial Intelligence-powered smart gun detection system 

Athena security AI smart gun detection
The system and application can detect and alert of guns in real-time, Source: Athena Security 

Athena Security AI gun detection uses a system that connects to an already existent security camera system (CCTV) in order to deliver fast, accurate threat detection. The AI security camera then can identify objects such as knives and guns with 99 percent accuracy. The technology works by using computer vision AI algorithms to detect 900 types of firearms, as well as knives and any kind of aggressive action. Athena Security is able to recognize a threat in under three seconds alerting police. The system can alert of falls, accidents, and unwelcome visitors, too. 

Athena security AI surveillance detects guns, prevents mass shootings
 Through notifications, police can be alerted in real-time, Source: Athena Security 

Some of the unique core technology used in the system includes proprietary neural networks, deep and lightweight nets, designed for IP cameras/CCTV, the cameras work on any angle and in any light condition.  

Individual and mass shootings are more deadly than war conflicts in the U.S.


John Lennon, a member of the legendary English band The Beatles, devoted his short life to promote peace in the world together with wife Yoko Ono. Lennon was shot dead by a 25-year-old mentally-disturbed fan who was looking for attention outside Lennon's apartment building in New York City on the evening of December 8, 1980. He was only 40 years old.

Anyone can be a victim of either an individual or a mass shooting as long as guns are sold to anyone and in possession of anyone with a wish to kill. It is everyone's responsibility to actively do as much as we can to stop these criminal acts against humanity. A wish of peace sent to the air only will never be enough to stop anything. 

Total deaths caused by firearms in the U.S.                                           

  • 1968 to 1980: 377,000

  • 1981  to 1998: 620,525

  • 1999 to 2013: 464,033 

  • 2014 (estimated based on rate from 2011-2013): 33,183

  • 2015 (estimated based on rate from 2011-2013): 22,122 

The total of firearm-related deaths (including homicides and suicides) from 1968 to 2015 was 1,516,863 whereas the total of war fatalities by major U.S. conflict was 1,396,733. Politifact fact-checked all the figures and claim them True. 

Athena Security has given a step forward in actively offering a solution to prevent mass shootings. If this effort is combined with gun regulations in the United States, perhaps we could see a decrease in firearm-related deaths in the upcoming years.

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