by Cristiano Galli


A professional burglar breaks into an apartment, swiftly moves to the safe and using acid breaks the locks and steals 3 million AED (roughly 750k euros). In real time, the apartment safety cameras, connected to the centralized Artificial Intelligence Police System, catch the burglar facial print and starts backtracking his movements and pattern of life. The Artificial Intelligence (AI) system tracks the burglar arriving at the airport 48 hours earlier, checking into a hotel room and leaving dressed as a woman with the traditional Arabian abaya. Fourty-seven minutes after breaking into the apartment, police forces storm into the hotel room and arrest the suspect.


It looks like a scene from the famous movie Minority Report, in which a hybrid human machine intelligence system was used to prevent crimes by forecasting the future. But actually, this happened last November in the town of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. In 2019, as stated by Dubai Police officials, 319 suspects were brought to custody with the support of thousands of CCTV cameras under the Oyoon (Eyes) project that employs artificial intelligence.


Police officials recently stated: “The cameras cover tourist destinations, public transport and general traffic. They helped arrest 319 suspects in different areas in Dubai through their automatic facial recognition technology. Under the AI network, security cameras across the city relay live images of security breaches to the Central Command Centre. The cameras monitor criminal behavior in three sectors — tourism, traffic and brick and mortar facilities. The project will tackle crimes in the city as using AI and latest technologies will help realize zero crimes in the future. For example, we have 5,000 cameras in the Metros and thousands more in the city. The cameras were able to detect wanted vehicles by identifying their plate number… AI will give surveillance cameras digital brains to match their eyes, letting them analyze live video with no human intervention”.


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has launched its national AI strategy in 2017 in nine sectors: transport, health, space, renewable energy, water, technology, education, environment and traffic. Uniquely, the UAE was the first State to appoint a State Minister for artificial intelligence. Notably, in the specific field of law enforcement, the Dubai Government also adopted the Dubai Police Strategic Plan (2018-2021), in line with a new General Department of Artificial in the Dubai Police, and a summit on AI-led policing “Future Societies 5.0” was announced. Similarly, the Centennial Vision 2057 of Abu Dhabi Police adopted in 2017 equally envisages a strong role for AI in Abu Dhabi and details more than 50 strategic initiatives harnessed by AI for the force. The UAE is reported to have made investments of 33 billion of Dh (9.0 billion of US dollar) in AI in 2017. One of the striking effects of living in the UAE is the constant and enduring perception of security. This pleasant sense of security contributes to a very high standard of living, but comes to a price.


Human Intelligence generally follows a sequence known as the sensation-perception-cognition-action information-processing loop. Sensors in our bodies intake data from the physical world (photons for vision, sound waves for hearing, vibrations for proprioception, chemicals for smell and so on). Data is then converted into information in the form of electro-chemical stimuli. That information is then used to think about what to do and then, once different options have been weighted, decisions are made and actions are taken.



Artificial intelligence works following pretty much the same principles. Machines process data coming from sensors converting them into usable information in order to create a picture of the surrounding world. This information is used to outweigh different options and come up with the best possible solution leading into action.


While there are many parallels between human intelligence and AI, there are stark differences too. Every autonomous system that interacts in a dynamic environment must construct a world model and continually update that model. The fidelity of the world model and the timeliness of its updates are the keys to an effective autonomous system.


AI systems, like human brains, need a huge amount of sensory information in order to recreate the best possible model of the living environment. In AI applications for public safety these sensory inputs come from thousands of cameras across public and private areas of the country. In the UAE, through a simple phone application, it is possible to connect your home safety cameras to the centralized AI Police System. An Artificial Intelligence System predicting potential law breaking situations constantly monitors your behaviors and pattern of life. This constant big brother over watch is obviously hampering personal privacy. Is this the price to pay to live in a safe and secure environment?


It is not a black and white easy answer. We should be aware that our private lives are already highly monitored. Every time we search something on Google, an AI system is collecting information about our interests. Every time we use a smart watch to go for a run, a GPS is tracking our patterns and our biological parameters. Every time we carry a smart phone with us we are giving away our position. It would be hypocritical to expect privacy once we are “connected”. The WEB is an information vacuum. The issue is not whether we can prevent our private information to be collected, but rather what this huge chunk of information is used for.


A digitally advanced State in which personal information are used to improve the standard of life could be considered utopian, in reality it is an achievable goal and the UAE are a leading Nation in this field of cultural and technological development.


It is an open debate, but the trade off between security and privacy is becoming a relevant issue in the uncertain world in which we are living.