• New technology predicts which online predators could try to meet children in person

    By: Tenikka Hughes , Action News Jax

    Updated:

    Researchers at Purdue University are using artificial intelligence to help stop child predators. 

    Action News Jax Anchor Tenikka Hughes traveled to Indiana to see how the technology works.  

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    Clay County Detective Ryan Ellis has a clear message for local parents.  “It might seem like a story on the news, or an article in another state. It can be your child.”

    He’s worked to investigate and stop crimes against children for the last 10 years. 

    Action News Jax has reported on dozens of people in the last few years accused of trying to meet children for sex in our area. They include a Navy lieutenant, teacher and a former Department of Defense employee. 

    Ellis said, “Sometimes conversations can last a matter of hours before an offender tries to move on a child or it could be months.”

    The boom in new technology, apps and social networking means detectives are logging more hours monitoring and infiltrating the secret world of a predator.


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    Dr. Julia Rayz is an associate professor of computer and information technology at Purdue University in Indiana. She is a part of a team of researchers working to help investigators stop dangerous predators before they strike.  When talking about child predators Rayz said, “They know they are being watched and they are doing everything they can to slow down the process.”

    I traveled to the Purdue camps to see firsthand, a tool researchers say could help investigators flag people most likely to try to meet a child face-to-face. The Chat Analysis Triage Tool, or CATT works in seconds using the power of artificial intelligence.

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    “It really saves time.” Dr. Rayz said the research team taught the program what to look for by processing language from thousands of actual conversations where offenders went after children in person. Rayz said law enforcement agencies could download CATT to a computer, import text from conversations they want to analyze and get instant results.  

    The tool assigns suspects and conversations various risk levels. Red is the highest, yellow is moderate and green is the lowest risk for a suspect attempting to meet a child in person. 

    Rayz said, “You have same the same conversations that a human would go through. You click button and less than half second later -- you get results that tell you concentrate on this or that.”

    Action News Jax brought our video of the program in action back home to Detective Ellis.  “I’m interested to try it.”  Ellis added, “That could potentially cut back on hours days of scouring through data.” 

    Researchers say CATT could also help investigators and their online interactions with suspects, teaching them how to respond more like a child would. The technology can essentially learn from humans and humans can learn from the technology as well.

    The detective said, “It sounds like it would be a virtual investigator, so any tool to have that we can learn from and can learn from us, I’m very curious to see how it works.

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    Ellis said while nothing can replace old fashioned police work, he’s said it is important to evolve and add new tools to their arsenal.

    But the first line of defense starts with parents.

    “We give children technology and we expect them to be responsible as adults and at their fingertips are all the dangers of the world," said Ellis.

    CATT is still in the Beta, or testing phase, but the Purdue team  plans to make it freely available to law enforcement.  It’s asking agencies share more samples of real conversations to add to the CATT database to enhance its knowledge and performance.
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