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Banjo CEO Damien Patton
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Utah company Banjo could solve crimes in seconds

At the Silicon Slopes conference earlier this year, Banjo CEO Damien Patton talked about the importance of getting privacy concerns right when it comes to artificial intelligence. Photo credit: Team Banjo Instagram

Artificial intelligence is being used to detect gunfire and other crimes even before the police are aware of it, courtesy of a company called Banjo.

The technology is cutting edge and it is being developed in Utah.

Based in Park City, Banjo uses a system described as an “event-detection engine” that operates in real time.

Banjo does what other systems and organizations are already doing, but faster, the company says.

The CEO of Banjo, Damien Patton, spoke with KSL Newsradio’s Dave and Dujanovic show on Wednesday.

Patton says the idea for the technology began with his wife encouraging him to enter a hacking competition, Hackfest, back in 2010.

The competition, sponsored by Google, was designed to encourage developers to solve difficult problems.

Patton won the competition that year. This victory opened up doors with investors in Silicon Valley. A million dollars of investment later and Patton developed the technology known as Banjo.

How does Banjo work?

“So the idea around the technology at Banjo is around, first of all, using artificial intelligence ethically, and protecting users’ data by stripping out all personal identifiable information,” Patton says.

The technology can scan millions of social media posts to identify where criminal activity is going on. The system appears to work throughout the world and across multiple languages.

“And what Banjo does is it grabs all of this public information live so it can be 911 calls, traffic cameras, social media, weather data, and its synthesizes it all together and then it can, using artificial intelligence, it can understand what is happening, where it’s happening, truly before anyone else knows about it. And what happens then is that we, at Banjo, are able to alert emergency services that something needs attention now before they would otherwise know about it,” Patton says.

With this new technology, crimes could be solved within seconds, not days or weeks.

Dave Noriega compares the artificial technology to doing the work of an analyst who would need to wait for a report to come across the desk, who then reads, deciphers and understands it. The analyst then writes a report and gives it to the supervisor who will decide what to do.

Using the Banjo technology, Patton says the analytical process is virtually instantaneous.

Banjo in practice

Banjo has already been used to quickly detect a criminal event.

An early notification of the 2017 shooting in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay resort came from a social media post written in Spanish. The post said there was the sound of gunfire.

Patton says the Banjo system was able to verify that a shooting was occurring in Las Vegas, zeroing in on Mandalay Bay. At the time, the company was operating with some media outlets to share information so the media was able to break the news and start reporting on it almost immediately.

Using this new technology to solve crimes and halt kidnappings seems, in the words of show co-host Dave Noriega, too good to be true.

Debbie Dujanovic, former FBI spokesperson and show co-host, says she fully supports it. In fact, she wants to know what it will take to get this new tech into the hands of all policemen in Utah.

Utah’s law enforcement is testing Banjo

The attorney general of Utah, Sean Reyes, joined the show on Wednesday to discuss how law enforcement is already putting Banjo’s technology to use in Utah.

Reyes said that last year, upon meeting with Patton about Banjo, the potential for Banjo in law enforcement was recognized almost immediately.

“It’s incredible technology and our hope is that all law enforcement and first-responders will be able to use this soon to do many of the things we do now but just at hyperspeed. And then things that we have never been able to do before can truly revolutionize how we do law enforcement, first responders, fire, medical. . . . While the technology itself is disruptive and incredible, it’s the principled application that Damien Patton and the founder of Banjo has cued to, which is that we will not ever exploit personal information. We won’t even take it in. We will build safeguards within,” Reyes says.

Reyes sought to dismiss concerns that Banjo is taking on the role of Big Brother, the ruling leader from the novel 1984, watching people all the time.

The state of Utah brought Banjo under contract for a test run, a project. A simulated Amber Alert situation was put together, involving multiple agencies, helicopters, and Banjo.

Reyes says the Banjo team took a day-long process of an Amber Alert and boiled it down to minutes.

“By the time the Amber Alert goes out, often many hours have already passed and every second is so precious,” Reyes says.

After the simulation, a SWAT team commander was in tears, saying, “This is what we waited for our entire careers.”

“It’s the good aspects of being able to have un-siloed information, all pooled together, in a place that we trust. And so that’s the exciting part about it. It has the potential truly to transform law enforcement the way we do, not just child abduction protocol . . . but many other types of crimes, natural disasters, and threats to safety,” Reyes says.

“It has been working in simulations. There is so much promise here,” Reyes says.

Dave Noriega says the thought that a child abduction can solved in hours or minutes or seconds is unbelievable.

Will Banjo invade our privacy?

The technology does cause some concerns for the co-hosts of the show.

Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic identify an apparent conflict between a person wanting to maintain privacy and expecting that the person’s public social media posts should be protected from a company’s internet search.

Dave Noriega brings up a hypothetical situation where, while attending a concert, someone is putting the event on Facebook Live and the words, “Was that gunfire?” or, “Is that a fire?” are said. Those phrases would catch the attention of Banjo. If others say similar things on social media at the concert, Banjo would alert law enforcement.

Patton says, “Everyone should be skeptical about what we are doing and what anybody is doing when it comes to artificial intelligence. The power of what true AI can do is staggering. If we get artificial technology wrong, we as a society are not even in grave danger. We just can’t even come back from it because of the power of what this has.”

The Banjo system does not give a person’s social media posts to law enforcement. Patton says the system gives the information contained in the social media to law enforcement.

“It’s healthy for everyone to be skeptical and to push back on this. And I welcome that everyday because I know how we have engineered our company and I like to show people how you can build an altruistic company that protects everyone’s data and save lives or reduce human suffering and give back to this planet without having to exploit people and their data,” Patton says.