Once upon a time I interviewed Dr. Hans Berliner. Berliner was a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon and also a world champion at correspondence chess.
Combining these two interests, he'd created a chess-playing program called Hitech.
At the time (in 1990), computers were horrible at chess. Slow and bad. Most programmers were concerned with writing selective search algorithms. That means they wanted the computers to play "like a human," focusing their processing cycles on analyzing a small set of plausible moves, rather than wasting time considering the ramifications of moves that, to human players, were obviously bad from the get-go.
Berliner said that a brute force approach was actually much more interesting. He said that a computer examining every single possibility could find surprisingly powerful move sequences among those many ideas that humans automatically reject. Berliner's research indicated that this was true in chess, and in games like Go and various other computational challenges.
In other words, once you give it enough horsepower, a computer is better off playing "like a computer" than like a human. Time has proven Berliner correct. Todays best chess programs play moves that look unnatural to the human player but that are in fact quite strong.
We've hit that tipping point in video surveillance systems—the point where computers, through brute force, can routinely and automatically find things in video that people can't. I think of it as entering the age of analytics. For some time its been possible to capture and store gigabytes, terabytes, even petabytes of video. Now software systems can efficiently analyze all that data, looking for unexpected movement, unanticipated patterns, familiar faces, customer behavior and more. Seems like we run across another new surveillance vendor every day, and the big camera system vendors also are building in more intelligence with each generation of their management software. (Even as I was writing this article, news appeared in my inbox about Honeywell's purchase of an analytics purveyor called ActivEye.) In addition to the security benefits, these new analytical video systems—intelligently deployed and managed—can help the security function deliver added intelligence to the business to improve workflow, enhance product quality, measure the effectiveness of promotions and marketing, and more.
Happily, the increased role of computation doesnt mean that people will be phased out of the surveillance equation completely. It just means that instead of glazing over staring at screen after screen, people can apply their intelligence where it's most useful. It turns out that the machines now have the horsepower to make old-time security systems into something much more than ever before.