Our exhibit shows the ups and downs of using computer vision algorithms to help journalists and human rights investigators evidence war crimes
Tom is a human rights and technology researcher, and co-founder of Rudiment.
Images created using our ARtillery Crater Analysis and Detection Engine (ARCADE) software are being displayed in an exhibition called Notes from Technotopia: Artistic Visions of the tech-past/present/future, curated by Black Dogs.
The exhibition is an exploration of society’s unease about technologies and their impact on our ethics, culture, work and play. It looks at themes of automation, artificial intelligence and technological change. Our exhibit runs alongside artworks by Shona McNaughton, Frozen Music Collective and Martin Smith. It’s running until 10 December 2015 in Gallery II at the University of Bradford, UK.
The exhibit we have created shows how ARCADE examines satellite imagery of four locations in eastern Ukraine that received heavy artillery bombardment during the war in 2014. The locations are near Amvrosiivka, Savur Mohyla, Semenivs’ke and Stepanikvka. These are four of over 70 blast crater fields we analysed as part of this project.
Between April and October 2014 the parties to the war in eastern Ukraine killed 4,000 people and caused the displacement of half a million people. According to Human Rights Watch, all sides to the conflict have fired unguided “Grad” rockets at targets in urban areas, taking few measures to protect civilians – potentially, these are war crimes. To provide verified and accurate reporting and counter the intense propaganda about the war, networks of journalists have pored over social media and satellite imagery to document destroyed buildings and other scars of war.
In creating ARCADE, we aim to assist investigators in a difficult and specific task by demonstrating how computer vision could be used to detect and analyse hundreds of blast craters simultaneously, rather than one by one.
ARCADE is an early stage tool that makes lots of mistakes; these are shown clearly in the exhibit. However, it gives a glimpse into the capabilities that investigators for the public good should have at their disposal.
By contributing this work to Notes from Technotopia we hope to give exposure to the incredible work done by journalists and human rights workers in seeking the truth of the war in Ukraine. We also hope visitors to the exhibition leave with an impression of how techniques, algorithms and technologies widely used in industry and commerce also have a role to play in the pursuit of justice and accountability.
You can read more information about our computer vision work on ARCADE’s project page.
Many thanks to Andy Abbott and Black Dogs for making this possible.
Rudiment is a research and development organisation founded in 2015 by human rights defenders specialised in the use of modern digital technologies. We experiment with ways to acquire, analyse and present information that open new possibilities for people investigating human rights violations, war crimes and abuses of power. We draw on techniques of open source intelligence and civic hacking to create the sort of resources, tools and approaches which have revolutionised government, humanitarian work and investigative journalism.