Humans or robots? It sounds like the sort of choice you’d only have to make in a sci-fi movie, but for more and more estate security managers, it’s a very real dilemma. The advances in digital technologies – including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, automation and machine learning – have made it possible to employ a full-service security force staffed entirely by non-humans.
Possible, yes. Probable? Sure: Oxford University’s landmark 2013 study on the future of employment ranked security guards as one of the most likely professions to be automated (up there with tailors and turning machine operators). But is it practical? There are strong arguments on both sides of the debate.
Machines, after all, can gather and process massive amounts of information – far more and far quicker than any human brain ever could. The possibilities of an integrated system of data-driven smart security machines are mind-boggling. Smart cameras, equipped with cutting-edge facial recognition software, can spot and identify friends and foes in seconds. Aerial drones can conduct silent, bird’s-eye-view perimeter patrols, observing and reporting to a centralised control room, where advanced AI gathers and processes the information, learning as it goes, instantly relaying any emergency alerts to local law enforcement teams. It’s quick and seamless, and there’s no risk of human error creating gaps at any point along the chain. And, because the machines learn and teach each other, the system gets smarter with every passing microsecond, constantly staying a step ahead of criminals and intruders.
If you think that sounds like far-future make-believe, think again. Integrated smart systems are already available and are being rolled out at properties across the world and across South Africa. But that doesn’t mean that estates are replacing their human security teams. Far from it. People, for all their frailties, can still do things that machines can’t. People can think on their feet, adapting quickly to changing situations. People instinctively pick up patterns, using context clues to see trouble and make split-second tactical judgement calls.
Finally, security teams are the smiling, human face of your estate. They’re the ‘guys at the gate’, who greet your guests and point your visitors in the right direction. A machine may learn to recognise those guests, but it couldn’t strike up a natural, welcoming conversation with them.
The immediate future of estate security, then, isn’t a stark choice between people and machines; it’s a combination of the two. It’s the highly trained human security guards with the finely tuned gut instincts, supported by vast volumes of Big Data and empowered with multiple extra sets of digital eyes. What the people miss, the machines will pick up. And while the machines are cold, automated and bound by pre-programmed rules, the people lend a gentle, human touch to the whole operation.
According to that Oxford University study, human security guards have an 84% chance of seeing their jobs being automated (in other words, of being replaced by robots) within the next 20 years.
But that number only tells part of the story. The smartest security companies are blending the best aspects of machines (their tireless, endless attention spans and total recall ability) with the best aspects of people (our warmth and adaptability) to create a complete package, where robots don’t replace human security guards.
They just make them even better at their jobs.