IF, THEN, OR, ELSE – THE DEHUMANIZATION OF PUBLIC SAFETY DISPATCH?

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Compassion. Consideration. Empathy.

Any public safety official should strive to achieve and maintain these three traits when dealing with the public they serve. They are also traits that are likely impossible to embed in any automated process used despite their ability to improve the efficiency of citizen services.

For the most part, a computer’s thinking is a very binary process based on a series of instructions contained within a program. A simple example would be:

IF ‘A’ is TRUE, perform task ‘B.’
OR IF ‘A’ is FALSE, perform task ‘C.’

Depending on the use case, one may tend to call this Artificial Intelligence. But the computer only KNEW what to do because it was programmed to respond in a certain way based on predetermined conditions. The computer never made a conscious decision and certainly didn’t consider any extenuating facts or circumstances that were not pre-provisioned.

It simply took a predefined action based on the value of ‘A’ being True or False. The computer program is no more intelligent than a ball rolling down a ramp with a 1-inch hole and a 2-inch hole. So, for example, a 1-inch ball would roll and fall into the first hole, and anything larger would fall into the second. So should a ball larger than 2 inches roll down that same ramp, it would fall into neither.

If additional logic was required, the program could have an extra step added at the end:

IF ‘A’ is TRUE, perform task ‘B.’
OR IF ‘A’ is FALSE, perform task ‘C.’
ELSE perform task ‘D.’

This adds credence to the old saying, “A computer is only as smart as the person who programmed it.”, and it also begs the question, “What makes a machine Artificially Intelligent?”

One could assume that an intelligent machine can complete its given task, not just by following predefined instructions but also do so in the presence of an unreliable and dynamic working environment. An intelligent machine must also monitor its environment, and based on the results of that monitoring, adjust its actions based on that additional data. It does this in addition to the program’s prerequisites for its intelligence. This other construct is Machine Learning.

Artificial intelligence would then be the backbone of an intelligent machine, the processor to intake all the relevant and available information combining and correlating the various pieces of information, and then developing a new and better solution to the problem it was trying to solve. In this manner, it does its work much the same way human intelligence solves a problem through intelligent reasoning.

The value that this brings to public safety is that with the next generation of 911 solutions on the cusp of deployment, the amount of data to ingress into our emergency communication centers is about to increase at unimaginable levels. While many fear that this will cripple our nation’s ECCs, the fact of the matter is that we are operating today without that additional data, and if in the future it’s too much to ingest, service levels won’t be any worse than they are right now. So there will be piles of extraneous data “laying on the floor” that could’ve helped with a more efficient response.

In due time, systems will adapt, capabilities will increase, and new procedures will be adopted to better deal with this new influx of information. Remember, before the mid-80s, most ECCs never even had caller ID, let alone ANI/ALI feedback and computer systems. Public safety agencies’ biggest mistake would be to put on blinders and ignore new and innovative technologies that will improve efficiencies and streamline mundane processes.

The example I always fall back on is this: Whenever I was dispatching, I religiously ran the plate through NCIC whenever one of my units would make a motor vehicle stop. That would entail typing on the IBM mainframe computer terminal:

NCICQV.NJ0191800.LIC/123ABC.LIS/NJ 

If I had a dollar for every time I typed that key sequence, I would likely be retired. I would’ve also given up 50 cents of that dollar if I had a function key that typed:

NCICQV.NJ0191800.LIC/ 

automatically for me, and I just needed the tag number and state.

Looking at the computer automation that happens today in an ECC, all of that manual process can quickly occur on the backend, without thinking, without effort. It’s one event being triggered by another automatically. Additionally, suppose that tag came back as stolen or wanted. In that case, a separate and unique set of actions could automatically initiate, alerting the dispatcher and even entering data into the CAD alerting backup units.

There are still far too many people who fear that their jobs are in jeopardy by the addition of artificial intelligence and automation. Others worry that the computers will make fatal errors in their decisions. While those are relevant fears, I honestly don’t believe they’re valid fears. The role of the Telecommunicator is radically changing. Exactly how the part of a pilot is changing, and more technical skills, as well as good piloting skills, are a requirement. One doesn’t replace the other; it merely augments it the same way that most college engineering classes require a calculator. But, of course, you still must know how to do the math, but you’ve got that little piece of plastic and silicon to ensure the accuracy.

As technology evolves, public safety is becoming more complex. We need to embrace this complexity and embrace the technology that can minimize the negative impact that complexity naturally brings along with it. In the end, more lives will be saved,

After all, that IS THE MISSION, right?

STAY WELL AND BE SAFE . . .

Please follow me on Twitter @Fletch911
Be sure to check out my Blogs and Podcasts on: Fletch.TV

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