FAQ :: What is VIRAT?

VIRAT is another big step toward losing personal freedoms and anonymity. To be in public is to be on camera. But most video footage is discarded, as only so much can be sorted and analyzed, until recently. DARPA has created a technology that can index and analyze video in real-time, marking the end of anonymity in public places.

In 2008, DARPA, the US military’s elite group of scientists, began soliciting the tech industry to develop technologies that would allow computers to sort through and index surveillance footage from the military’s fleet of drones, satellites, and miscellaneous other secret spy cameras. This was all part of the Agency’s proposed Video Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool (VIRAT) that would be able to describe specific human activities in real-time.

This automated index would allow for searchable queries. For example: How often did an adult male taller than six-foot get in a car in the early morning between November 1st and December 22nd in a compound in Abbottabad? Or flag behavior such as when someone carries a large package toward a car on the side of a road in Basra but walked away empty handed.

DARPA has had some success and issued contract announcement in May 2011, describing how the VIRAT system will be deployed into various military-intelligence video archives and systems. The contract will be fulfilled by Lockheed Martin for an unspecified amount.

The military has an inherent interest in transferring surveillance duties from human eyeballs to an algorithm that cannot be swayed by political pressure. In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, human analysts famously misread surveillance footage as proof of Iraqi WMDs. (The problem with relying on flawed human analysis in order to support policy was described in depth in Malcolm Gladwell’s essay collection “What the Dog Saw.”)

As with many DARPA projects, the technology will eventually filter down into commercial industry and then finally to consumers. If the tech works as promised it will quickly be implemented in domestic surveillance programs. Much of the western world has willingly traded privacy for the security of ubiquitous surveillance. Most riders on public transportation feel safer knowing that they are surrounded by cameras plugged directly into some control room.

Of course a dedicated team of human observers could never effectively monitor all those screens covering an entire system, but with this new automated technology, authorities might be alerted to trouble. Additional facial-recognition software might compare a suspicious person’s face to specific watch lists. Whether this Big Brotherly oversight makes you feel more or less safe is entirely up to you.

Beyond surveillance, this automatic video tech could make all uploaded video searchable, regardless of tags or descriptors. As pocket-sized cell phones surpass the video technology of the camcorders of previous decades, we will all be captured on video and placed on the web on a regular basis. In the not-so-distant future, it may be possible for someone (your friends, potential employers, strangers, etc.) to Google your name and find some incidental footage of you at that political protest from last summer that some stranger uploaded to YouTube. Everything that happens in public will be public record. [1]

Big Brother will have all surveillance cameras in the world plugged into a VIRAT system that will allow the Antichrist to watch any spy cameras in the world in real time any time he wants to. That is as close to godhood that the Antichrist will get.


[1] Dashevsky, Evan. “DARPA’s Automated Video Surveillance Will End Public Anonymity.” 5.05.2011. www.extremetech.com/article2/0%2c2845%2c23 84968%2c00.asp.