High-tech research and development have become part of the fabric of the Pittsburgh region, advancing work in fields such as robotics and artificial intelligence. For one particular company, its mission goes deeper as it uses its technological expertise to plumb the dark corners of the internet as it assists law enforcement in the battle against human trafficking.
It’s another example of the role local firms play in using technology to tackle worldwide problems.
North Side-based Marinus Analytics, a tech company that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to combat human trafficking and other criminal activity, took third place in the international IBM Watson AI XPrize competition. The prestigious competition started in 2016 with 780 submissions and Marinus Analytics was one of the three finalists announced in February.
The company’s prize is a $500,000 third-place award that an official of the firm said will be used “to find more victims, detect more organized crime rings globally, and expand our work in the areas of child protection and cyber fraud.”
The company was founded in 2014 out of the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, and its signature tool, Traffic Jam, has become a powerful weapon for law enforcement in identifying victims of human trafficking through the use of facial recognition technology.
It is currently being used in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, and has pilot programs in India and Ireland.
The company estimates its software saved law enforcement officials more than 70,000 investigative hours in 2020. In 2019, Traffic Jam was used to identify 3,800 victims of human trafficking through online searches of sites frequented by human traffickers.
Human trafficking cases have risen dramatically in recent years, according to the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline which reported more than 22,000 victims of sex trafficking and labor trafficking in 2019 — an increase of nearly 20%. The work of firms like Marinus Analytics in combating such heinous crimes cannot be overstated.
The company may be small, but the work done to protect society’s most vulnerable members speaks volumes about the dedication of the 12-member staff. The award from IBM is a well-deserved honor.