When a federal agency sought a man wanted in a firearms-related
incident two years ago, it hit roadblocks. The informant knew no
names—only that the criminal's sister, who lived in Tucson, Arizona,
had an abusive boyfriend.
In a series of searches, officials combed hundreds of case files
until they found a woman involved in a domestic-violence case who
was also linked to a man of similar age with the same last name. And
they nabbed the criminal. This should have taken at least a month.
It took 25 minutes. It was one of Coplink's earliest successes.
Coplink, an artificial-intelligence–driven search engine for
crime characteristics, scans multiple databases for connections
among names, vehicles, physical descriptions, and other aspects of a
crime or criminal. Developed by Hsinchun Chen, director of the
University of Arizona Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Coplink
began in 1997.
Five years later, Chen has deployed Coplink at six agencies and
is developing an information-sharing and analysis program with the
CIA. He's also talking with the FBI about Coplink's potential use in
counterterrorism efforts with the FBI. Coplink also helped build the
case against the two sniper suspects in the Washington-area string
of shootings this past October.
Coplink differs from standard database software in that it uses
an AI component. A neural network continually updates information
from many databases. It learns patterns of association that help it
perform multiple searches with increasing intelligence.
The system is available only to authorized law enforcement
personnel at www.coplinkconnect.com. Chen says that Coplink's
security is strong enough to ward off hackers. "It's ten times more
secure than most of the e-commerce environment," he says. "It's a
supercop." Without the doughnuts.