Making the Netherlands safer with artificial intelligence
Screening millions of gigabytes of data on a confiscated smartphone, with the push of a button. Or evaluating police reports much faster. All this is possible with artificial intelligence (AI). But for police to use the technology safely and securely, state-of-the-art knowledge is required. As an AI scientist, Bas Testerink is the link between science and on-the-ground police work. Together with his team, he improves systems and explores how AI can help the police in the future. The ultimate goal: making the Netherlands safer.
Computers that can solve a murder on their own? That will probably never happen, according to Bas. ‘The use of artificial intelligence continues to play a supporting role within the police force. Although this might sound less exciting, artificial intelligence does create a lot of opportunities. Take the officers on the street, for instance. Ideally, patrol officers should spend as little time as possible on administrative work. This is not the case in practice, unfortunately, and agents must complete reports by hand after their shift. With AI, we can make it possible for local police officers to dictate incidents directly into their phone and have the AI convert this spoken text into a report. After their shift, all they have to do is check the document. Five minutes’ work instead of two hours. This might sound like a small, internal change, but the more time we save, the more time police can spend patrolling the streets.’
Increased chance of apprehension
While a computer may not be able to solve a murder on its own, AI does help police catch criminals. ‘In recent years, the separate registration systems of different police units have been merged. This makes it easier to link records of violations. AI offers numerous opportunities in this regard because it can make connections between incidents that might seem unrelated at first glance. This increases the chance of apprehension, as long as we use the technology carefully and responsibly.’
One of the National Police Lab’s key priorities is to constantly refine existing police systems and implement new applications. Young researchers play an important role in this effort, Bas says. ‘They are the driving force behind innovations.’ One of these promising young researchers is alumnus Daphne Odekerken. ‘She’s improving the police report system that I once developed, and she is the perfect example of what we want a PhD track to look like. Fundamental research, combined with a practical question. She can conduct research like the best, but she’s also a programmer. This enables her to translate knowledge into practical applications for the police.’
Direct impact on society
Now that Bas is working with many other alumni through the Police Lab, he has more and more appreciation for his education at Utrecht University. ‘The multidisciplinary perspective on AI that I gained at the university still helps me every day. Because I learned about both the technical side and the philosophical side, I can better gauge AI’s impact on society from a legal-ethical standpoint.’
Developing cool systems isn’t the only thing that drives Bas. ‘I am still grateful that Floris Bex hired me as a post-doc researcher for the Police Lab in 2017. It’s great to have a direct impact on society and make the world a little bit safer.’
The National Police Lab Artificial Intelligence (NPAI) was established in January 2019 and is a cooperation initiative between the Dutch police and various universities, including Utrecht University. The Police Lab aims to develop state-of-the-art AI technologies in order to enhance the safety of the Netherlands in a socially, legally and ethically responsible manner. The research conducted at the Police Lab’s Utrecht location focuses on intelligent, interactive dialogues; reasoning with (legal) arguments and crime scenarios; and integrating symbolic and sub-symbolic techniques within AI. For more information, visit their website.