OK Google and Siri, Where is the Gunfire?

The lack of action on… err, on gun violence is stunning. But there’s a ubiquitous technology that can help us respond more rapidly to gun owners that seek to harm others.

The virtual assistant, whether Siri or Echo or Home Assistant or Cortana or whatever, has a basic design:

  1. A recording loop that is checked for a watch-word
  2. Upon hearing the watch-word, recording begins being sent to the cloud
  3. When the audio indicates no more words are coming, or a number of other end-conditions, the device returns to watch-mode

Gunfire has a distinctive enough audio signature (“sound”) that it can be listened-for during the loop phase of operation. Combined with GPS, the data of a gun being fired could be rapidly located.

Some at-risk and chronically violent communities have deployed fixed gunfire detectors, and it would make sense for hotels and other public venues to install them. But given the number of people with mobiles, there’s no reason not to give ordinary folks the tools to help stop violence when it breaks out.

The program would be opt-out for anybody who owns the devices but doesn’t want to listen for gunfire. The loudness of the signals from multiple phones could be quickly correlated with GPS data to give even better precision.

Knowing where the gunfire is coming from means that police don’t have to divert as many resources to checking nearby areas unless a manhunt develops out of a situation. In cases of apprehension, automated gunfire reports are more evidence for trial.

As other technologies co-evolve with mobiles, automated rotary-wing drones might one day respond to reports of gunshots by flying to the best-calculated origin and giving police a much earlier picture of the scene.

Regardless of gun control efforts (or whatever the banned term is) we should still invest in other technologies that will improve public safety. Having mobiles help reporting gunfire (and regular fires, too, and really any threat that’s readily detected) makes sense.