AI-powered robots on Goa's beaches: Bane or boon?

Data collected by these AI systems can be misused and abused
The use of AI intelligence means more safety and security for tourists
The use of AI intelligence means more safety and security for tourists

Fr Carlos Luis SAC

Drishti Lifesaving has been operational on Goa’s beaches since 2008, and since then its lifeguards have saved several people from drowning. As per reports, Drishti Marine lifeguards have assisted in over 1000 rescue operations in the coastal area in the past two years. However, the lifeguards were helpless when it came to unnoticed drowning incidents.  

Now, the agency has introduced Aurus (artificial intelligence-based self-driving robot) and Triton (AI-powered surveillance system) to augment the life-saving capabilities of its 800+ trained lifeguards serving on every beach of Goa and internal areas like Dudhsagar, Netravali Waterfalls and Mayem lake.

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The introduction of this latest equipment on our beaches would mean great job transformation. According to Drishti, it saved 3038 lives from 2008 to 2017. The use of these new machines would mean more safety and security for tourists.

But any surveillance implies a systematic type of attention with a purpose in mind. Surveillance suggests the idea of care as well as control. Fortunately and unfortunately, our rural and urban areas are becoming landscapes that generate and transfer data through already existing surveillance technologies now becoming essential in our day-to-day activities.

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Data, therefore, is the basis for such artificial intelligence robots. The robot will respond as per the data fed to it. If there is a discrepancy of any kind, it is sure to miscalculate and generate an opposite and undesired result. So, its data dependence inherent feature is what we need to be careful about while manufacturing and fetching these robots that will assist the lifeguards on our coastal belts.

According to Navin Awasthi, Operations Head of Drishti Marine, the support systems will help, especially during peak seasons, when the lifeguards have to monitor a larger population visiting the beaches. This clearly states that the systems are going to be hi-tech registering every tourist visiting the coastal area. This will pose a potential threat to individual privacy.

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The data collected by these systems can be misused and abused, thus there should be a guarantee that it will not happen. Goa's beaches are visited by domestic and international tourists who come here to laze under the sun and enjoy the coast. A beach is also a place where people visit to relax, bathe and forget their worries.

But the presence of these surveillance machines on the beaches will now create insecurity among visitors. The machines could provide real-time data that could be manipulated. Although the surveillance system may do a passive observation, it will still create doubts about how data perceived, absorbed, and generated by the systems will be utilized by the 'tech lifesavers' located in the central control room.

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Drishti provides us with the hope that the AI will be used to safeguard lives but can we know for certain, given that it is a technology and it can always be hacked, and that there is a possibility of failure?

Such surveillance technologies have three-fold dimensions that need to be carefully adhered to: functional dimension, consent dimension, and societal dimension. The fact that Drishti plans to use these systems it means they have carefully studied them. Now, the lifeguards will have to be trained to utilise these systems efficiently.

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The use of these artificial intelligence robots on our beaches will assist the government authorities to enforce stringent laws and safeguard our beaches. It will for sure create dataveillance possible and help the reduction of crimes that take place in the wee hours on our lonely beaches.

The lifeguards will have to be extra alert and quick to respond to the AI-powered robots. Despite the presence of the robots, the lifeguards' presence on the beaches will certainly be mandatory. After all, robots are machines and the human touch is inevitable. No robot can be a replacement for a lifeguard.

(The writer is a priest belonging to the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine) and currently the mission secretary of the ABVM Province, Bangalore. He comments on literature and films that mirror life.)

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