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Balancing Faith and Skepticism

One hundred years ago, “the very air seemed charged” with the potential of new technology, according to the book America 1908. Much the same could be said as we enter 2008, with the only difference being that we have, perhaps, become a bit blasé about the pace of change.

Consider that in 2001, Lenel unveiled an unheard of 1 terabyte storage capacity for its security surveillance systems. Now, Hie Electronics, Inc., has debuted a 50 terabyte system, scalable to petabytes.

We take for granted as well that as systems get better, they get cheaper, which puts the advancement within the reach of far more companies. For example, places like car dealerships and education facilities “that were not even considering analytics” are now installing them because of the drop in cost and complexity, says President of ioimage Americas Garry Clark. Similarly, a dual thermal imaging system that cost $120,000 two years ago is only $74,000 today, according to FLIR Systems, Inc.

We forget how long it used to take to realize the potential of new technology. It has, for example, taken about 100 years to realize the quite prescient prediction, as reported in America 1908, that wireless technology—then in its infancy—would someday allow everyone to have a pocket telephone.

Today, in security applications, end users are beginning to take wireless video transmission for granted as well. In fact, the kinks are still being worked out. “But a lot has been learned not only in coverage and capacitizing these systems but in how to do things like deliver mobile video in a way that if a cruiser has video and it moves through zones, how you maintain the stream of the video,” says Nick Samanich of ADT Security Services, Inc.

“What will be really interesting in the next twelve to 24 months,” says Samanich, is how security applications will be able to leverage third-generation wireless networks as they become ubiquitous. They will make it more feasible to use wireless to transmit video over large corporate campuses and throughout cities, and they will facilitate more cost-effective remote video archiving.

Most of all, we take for granted that each technological advance is an improvement on what a human could do. We should not forget, however, that technology has its limitations. While, as pointed out in the book Super Crunchers, expert systems always predict outcomes better than human experts, those systems are far from infallible. One noted test pitted legal Supreme Court experts against a statistical model to predict court decisions. The humans scored 59 percent; the expert system won with 75 percent—still a 25 percent error rate.

As we enter 2008, we must continue to look for ways to strike the right balance between man and machine and between faith in technology and a healthy skepticism about its performance in the real world.