Edit: Getting a lot of questions regarding how I feel about increased firearm regulation. I tried to express my thoughts diplomatically here: https://www.linkedin.com/posts/sonny-tai_im-really-not-sure-how-to-write-about-this-activity-6935179669382057984-ZVS8


South Africa's homicide rate per capita is currently the 10th highest in the world, nearly 5x higher than that of the United States. I grew up in Johannesburg from 1992-1999 - during this time, it was twice as bad as it is now.

As a child, I grew up constantly hearing of harrowing personal accounts from family friends who were carjacked and robbed at gun point. The government would run advertisements on television advising people to not stop for traffic lights at night unless absolutely necessary.

The flats we lived in had 3 levels of security - a spiked metal fence for the complex, steel reinforced doors for the unit, and another layer of steel reinforced doors to go upstairs where the bedrooms were.

The straw that broke the camel's back was when one of our close family friends was fatally shot in his own home during an intrusion.

My mother decided to take a leap of faith and bring me and my sister to the United States on an H-1B visa paying a relatively meager wage. We were evicted from my aunt's house after 3 months, and another relative took us in until my mother could afford our own apartment.

9 years in the Marine Corps and an MBA later, I decided to tackle an issue that I am deeply passionate about and started a company that develops AI software to automatically identify gun threats. We have now raised over $10 million of venture funding and have our technology deployed on nearly 20,000 cameras across over 1,200 buildings and sites.

I realize that technology alone won't come remotely close to solving gun violence, but it is our hope that our small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can move the needle in a meaningful way.

Ask me anything!

Here are a recent article about us:

Sort of Related: I adopted a kitten 10 months ago. He's now my Partner in (Tackling) Crime.


Comments: 1249 • Responses: 59  • Date: 

whitepangolin1885 karma

Mass surveillance since 9/11 has proven useless in stopping mass shootings before they happen. How will your AI tech do anything but bolster more of our rights to privacy being infringed?

sonnytai737 karma

We don't perform any facial recognition or track any biometrics. We identify human beings brandishing weapons in existing security camera systems and send alerts to dispatch centers who then immediately notify building occupants and first responders.

olderaccount503 karma

What is your false alarm rate?

Are these cameras constantly sending footage to your servers for processing or is this all done local at each camera?

sonnytai606 karma

On average 3 false positives per 50 cameras per month.

For most of the customers that use us, professional third party monitoring stations that we partner with filters out the alerts, so the end user will never see them.

thingandstuff452 karma

That would be 18 active shooter false positives per month for my kid's school system. That doesn't seem like a problem?

Edit: OP clarified that this is just the automated detection, and there is another layer of human auditing before action is taken.

sonnytai722 karma

A human being will always filter these out.

The AI doesn't make decisions, a human operator does.

thingandstuff322 karma

I guess I just didn't read the second sentence. Sorry.

This submission is turning out to be a lot of work for you. Best of luck!

sonnytai489 karma

No worries! I committed to an AMA so I'm doing my best to answer!

mooncow277 karma

So doing some quick napkin math:

Roughly 130,000 schools in the US, withon average 87 school shootings per year, and each camera having 0.72 false positives annually...

This system detects (ballpark) 1,000 false positive incidents PER CAMERA for every actual incident. This doesn't seem like a functional system. I imagine either the independent monitors struggling with vigilance in this situation or local authorities not responding to these alarms with any urgency.

KallistiTMP89 karma

To be fair, this is the same model as home security systems and it does sorta work. You basically just hire and train enough people to manually screen all the false positives, which does sorta scale. As in, if the average school has 50 cameras and generates 3 false positives a month, and each false positive takes 15 minutes to screen, then for 130,000 schools that's 97,500 hours a month of screening, or 24,375 hours a week. Divide by 40 and it works out to around 610 full time employees, round up to an even 1,000 to account for breaks and scheduling inefficiencies and all that, and you still end up with something fairly economical - that's like, an average of 20 call center employees per state. So cost wise, it's pretty cheap.

So, in terms of "Could you do it" the answer is yes. The bigger question is just all the potential issues with how those false positives are handled. As in, it presents a pretty significant invasion of privacy, and high risk of bad outcomes. Call center employees looking at blurry CCTV footage are about as likely as cops to mistake a cell phone held by a black kid for a gun, and if they panic and call in the SWAT team, it could result in more dead kids than before.

sonnytai51 karma

each false positive takes 15 minutes

A false positive would take more like 5-10 seconds to screen.

Penis_Bees11 karma

It's economical if you neglect that once someone brandishes the gun, usually someone will be calling the 911 faster than the positive result can be screened.

If that's generally the case, the effectivity goes way down.

To work around that you need positive results tested faster, meaning more labor.

Might be more effective just to put metal detecting turnstiles at every school.

sonnytai55 karma

It's economical if you neglect that once someone brandishes the gun, usually someone will be calling the 911 faster than the positive result can be screened.

The person calling 911 will often be in the line of fire, not be able to provide real time updates of the situation, be in fight or flight response and convey inaccurate information etc etc.

It's a real issue:

sonnytai61 karma

3rd party monitoring centers filter out these alerts.

They get thousands of alerts they need to process every single day. Gun detection alerts are less than a drop in the bucket for them.

Here are a couple worth checking out if you're wondering what I'm talking about:




sonnytai11 karma

Sorry, to answer the second part of your question - we are cloud-based.

whitepangolin45 karma

How does identifying the suspect mitigate the threat? Imagine you get a full profile of the active shooter - their age, height, background. What difference does this make in an emergency?

sonnytai48 karma

You would be able to track the location of the shooter throughout the building and also have a better understanding of where building occupants may be in imminent danger.

Building occupants will also be able to make better defensive and evacuation decisions based on the information at hand.

NikoEatsPancakes53 karma

How is any of this communicated to occupants?

Skooning20 karma

While at the same time NOT communicated to the shooter.

Apidium26 karma

Realistically it shouldn't matter if the shooter knows the pa system is yelling out their location.

A big issue would be it yelling out the location of police.

thinkofanamelater11 karma

Actually, that's a good question for u/sunnytai - when police are responding they will have their weapons out. Will their locations also be reported?

sonnytai10 karma

Yes, our solution will detect the weapons of police as well as they breach and enter.

sonnytai-30 karma

If humanity always gave up after failing to effectively solve a problem, we would still be sitting in caves eating rocks.

Arm_Lucky291 karma

How does the AI actually contribute anything meaningful?

sonnytai231 karma

Sorry for the delay - I ran off to lunch.

The AI identifies the shape and contour of a human being holding a firearm and relays the information to a dispatch center for human verification and action.

This way, first responders and building occupants will have real-time information on the threat situation and location instead of relying solely on 911 calls from panicked callers under duress.

BigfootSF6887 karma

Can you make something that helps cops not shoot someone with a cellphone, like in Sacramento?

sonnytai125 karma

All of our alerts are verified by trained humans before police are notified.

nebenbaum3 karma

"the AI" - as in basic image processing. That everyone does already.

sonnytai7 karma

You can train an open source model on some images you scrape from Google but it’ll take years of R&D to achieve the level of performance we have.

Unless you think that we pay our data scientists just for fun.

whitepangolin1 karma

How does it identify it? Cameras? Scanners?

sonnytai8 karma

We sample frames from existing cameras when motion is detected, and send these frames to the cloud to be processed by our inference model.

If the model determines there's a threat, it sends an alert back either to a dispatch center or to the institution's internal security team.

NorCalAthlete95 karma

Buzzword bingo for marketing. This post has AI / machine learning, immigration, guns, kittens, military.

sonnytai104 karma

Well, I'm the founder of the company, so of course I would love for more people to know about us and be talking about us.

That said, it's my life story and the kitten is my best friend. I hope it didn't offend you.

BowlingShoeThief188 karma

What happens when it detects a false positive? Maybe a squirt gun, paintball, airsoft etc? Sure it's unlikely those things would happen but not impossible. Then you have trigger happy cops responding, possibly with deadly force to a false positive.

sonnytai270 karma

Absolutely not. We don't send anything directly to police. Only to UL (Underwriter Labs) certified monitoring centers or internal security teams.

Everything is verified by a human being. We only identify whether weapons exist in camera frames probabilistically, our AI model doesn't make decisions.

Carvalho9666 karma

What are Underwriter Labs?

MotherLandLad145 karma

Whilst any method to deter a gunman carrying out a shooting, is it not a little too late once the person enters a building where there are people who have no idea a camera has detected a shooter, like customers?

Reminds me of the poisoning of rhino horns to stop the poachers.

Poachers have no idea a horn is poisoned. They will shoot a rhino to get paid. They don't ingest the horn or anything. The middle man does not ingest the horn and the manufacture of the aphrodisiac, does not ingest the horn.

The buyer of the aphrodisiac, dies but everyone in-between is still walking free and shooting rhino.

sonnytai175 karma

The probability that our technology would actually prevent a shooting is pretty low.

The value that it adds is getting real time information to building occupants and security / police as soon as humanly possible so that response so that they can take action a lot more rapidly and decisively.

bigheadasian1998141 karma

What’s your opinion on the H1B situation in US nowadays where it is very difficult to get h1b visa let alone h1b on a job that only pays $12/hr?

sonnytai270 karma

I think that the United States should accept as many immigrants as possible.

Immigration turned our nation into a superpower. Immigration makes us stronger. Of course, I'm biased as a first generation Taiwanese-American.

I think the rules have changed but I know for a fact my mom was paid $12 / hour on an H1-B two decades ago.

onetwohowdoyoudo112 karma

$12/hr in 1999 is $20.83 in 2022 money. That’s $43.3k a year, more than the average American makes. (Edit: spelling)

sonnytai197 karma

My mom is a university educated woman who was hired to be a Procurement Manager for a furniture company.

The business owner knew that she could bring in H1-B workers and vastly underpay them while blackmailing them with their immigration status.

It was not a good time for mom.

HemHaw84 karma

Business owners still do this, and they use it as justification to undercut wages of Americans as well. They put out impossible job requirements and use that as an excuse to not hire US Citizens so that they can hire people from overseas who take low pay and don't make a fuss.

sonnytai80 karma

It’s fucked up. A lot of people want to immigrate to the US and are willing to grind it out for a chance to stay in the country.

Our nation isn’t perfect and we have a lot of flaws, but if you’re a US citizen you’re top 10% lucky by rest of the world standards.

HemHaw35 karma

Having a shitty immigration policy creates issues like this. We need an easier way to get people to immigrate lawfully.

sonnytai71 karma

It’s as if large swaths of the people who live here forgot where their ancestors came from and what made this nation the most powerful one on earth.

The only reason China can even give us a run for our money is because they have 5x the people.

Why wouldn’t we want to get more people?!

dicklettucetomato44 karma

Doesn't your business rely on gun violence continuing? If, by your work or the changing of laws or some other scenario, gun violence is reduced, your business becomes less viable. In terms of having a viable business model, isn't it actually ideal for you if gun violence gets worse, otherwise you won't have any customers or use cases?

sonnytai105 karma

Gun detection is only part of our business - another big part of our business is the detection of perimeter intrusions on industrial sites.

I will be a very happy person if the gun detection part of our business ceases to exist because our gun violence rate has fallen to level that match other OECD countries.

astutelyabsurd41 karma

Using a real life example, how would your technology improved the outcome of the event or the response time of the officer? E.g. The Tops supermarket and Uvalde Elementary School shootings. And if this technology becomes more mainstream, don't you believe that criminals will find out ways to circumvent your detection? If the camera is unable to view the gun (E.g. obscured by a bag or even painted), then it would be impossible for your AI to detect it.

sonnytai143 karma

With Uvalde our technology would have done exactly fuck-all if the police refuse to enter into the building.

That said, if we are able to provide more clarity on the situation (e.g. dispatchers know where the shooter is, what he's armed with, and the approximate number of students at risk) then perhaps the police would have been compelled to enter.

The technology can be defeated - any technology can be defeated. That's why the DoD doesn't publicize the armor thickness of the M1A2 Main Battle Tank, and also why we don't publicize the names of our customers.

lonesomeconsultant41 karma

How do you intend to generate free cash flow and any tangible profit for your company? Are you going to sell this AI data gathered to law enforcement/other entities in order to make money? How are you tacking the fine line between privacy and security in this case? And lastly as someone else pointed out, there's been no proven use case of mass surveillance in stopping any of the thousands of shootings in the US, how can you do any better?

sonnytai49 karma

Institutions pay us a subscription fee based on a per-camera-month basis.

It's month-to-month, so if at anytime they feel that the technology isn't adding value, they cancel and don't get billed.

We're deployed on nearly 20,000 cameras and our current customer churn rate is still 0%.

Sybre6 karma

How many of that is for this service compared to your construction site service?

sonnytai22 karma

The industrial site service is the majority right now. But we just signed up a 850 school district for gun detection, so it's expanding rapidly.

sfckor34 karma

Would your technology be useful in a state that allows open carry?

sonnytai51 karma

Perhaps not outdoors, but private organizations have the right to enforce their own rules on weapons handling, so we would work with those institutions that do so (e.g. schools or libraries).

sfckor5 karma

Follow up. Is this tech able to be used in drones? I think it's exciting. Thanks for the answers!

sonnytai17 karma

The type of training data we use is really different from the training data needed to train drones.

That might be a question for like Skydio or Axon.

Voicy-ZA17 karma

Good job man & all the best for the fund raising! Good on your mom for getting you guys out.

Gun violence in South Africa and friends leaving the country go hand-in-hand.

My neighbour was shot in the head during a robbery and I caught 2 guys stealing our car at 2am which didn't end pretty. Family members killed in farm murders and friends hijacked at gunpoint. Everyone has a story.

Now proudly a Norwegian citizen and haven't been killed once. I still have that "looming" feeling whenever things get too comfortable. It's hard to shake.

I guess my question is...how do you explain the difference between biltong and beef jerky to people?

sonnytai14 karma

"Biltong is like beef jerky but with different spices and tastes 10x better"

If they want more info:

"The (Dutch) Voortrekkers used as a way to carry preserved meat when they traveled across the country in their wagons"

Really really sorry about your neighbor. Anyone who grew up in South Africa has heard many of these stories about their friends or friends of friends.

We're working with 5 security companies in SA now to deploy this tech.

Carvalho969 karma

How do you differentiate against all the other AI powered video analytics products on the market? False alarm filtering has become the standard, and weapon detection is increasingly becoming common place, even baked into the onboard analytics of several camera manufacturers.

Given a couple more cranks of Moore's Law, it seems fairly likely to me that these analytics will be baked into the cameras themselves a couple generations from now, how will you defend against that?

sonnytai18 karma

Great question - based on what I'm seeing in the industry (we've been around for four years), the overwhelming majority of vendors overpromise and vastly underdeliver.

A lot of them think that they can just hire some offshore shop to train some data off YOLO and it's going to work fine. It doesn't - at least not to the level customers expect in production.

We have a 100% US based engineering and data science team who worked at companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Regeneron, and attended schools such as Rice, UChicago, WashU in Stl, and University College London.

We also allow the customer to "pilot" the technology in some cases for several months before we even ask them for a contract.

We believe in "show, don't tell" and doing things the right way. I hope that by doing so, our reputation will continue to grow as a trusted provider of video analytics services.

lexylexylexy7 karma

So you left SA 23 years ago and you made a whole AMA to shit talk us?

sonnytai17 karma

I love SA. Went back twice this year.

Calling out reality is not shit talking. America has a massive gun violence issue as well.

faintedremix0095 karma

If you know that the chances of preventing gun violence is low, why do you run this business anyways?

sonnytai8 karma

If you know that the chance of someone breaking into your house is low, why do you lock your doors when you leave anyway?

johnnylogic3 karma

First of all, thank you for trying to do SOMETHING about this crisis. Wish there were more people like you trying to do anything to solve this horrible situation plaguing our country.

My question is, with your technology, won't shooters eventually become hip to the technology and just hide their weapons in their coats or backpacks so that your technology can't recognize it and alert the authorities in time?

Thanks again for what you're doing.

sonnytai11 karma

Yes, they can.

But it's also really damn hard to fire a weapon properly with a towel draped over it.

And we also don't publicize where our tech is deployed. If you know a defensive system exists, you can defeat it.

saschaleib2 karma

So, how is the recognition rate? How many false positives and how many false negatives do you get with your system?

sonnytai9 karma

It depends on the model. For gun detection, we average about 1 FP per 15 cameras per month, which is all filtered out by a human being.

For FNs, our detection rate for a weapon that has been exposed for 5 seconds or more is 100% thus far.

Sweet_Baby_Cheezus2 karma

Have you analyzed mass shootings like Buffalo or Uvalde or Newton? What's the lead time between brandishing gun and beginning firing?

On one hand, an extra 30 or 45 seconds of warning seems like it'd be invaluable, on the other, it seems like most mass shooters have done their damage before any actual response is going to be realistically available.

sonnytai2 karma

Our type of technology would be most helpful in situations where the real estate footprint is relatively large and the events unfold over a period of time (e.g. Parkland, Uvalde). In situations where a weapon is drawn immediately and the shooting is over in a few seconds, there is likely not much impact.

The purpose is to get real-time information into the hands of building occupants and first responders so they can act more decisively.

karangoswamikenz2 karma

Outside of Reddit and within this ama , have you ever felt that you’re actively trying to find some kind of technological solution to this problem but because of this problem being politicized ,especially by gun culture advocates, even though it’s a human safety issue, have you felt like you’re treated harshly or scrutinized more than needed? Do you feel they just don’t want anyone to find a solution ?

sonnytai2 karma

I think that people focus too much on what they think doesn't work rather than what might work.

Imagine if we approached the scientific method this way - taking potential solutions off the table without testing them. We would never solve any problems.

My take is that at this point it is a severe enough problem that we should leave no stone unturned to test initiatives and measure whether they work or not.

johnnymonkey1 karma

In 1999, my mother took a $12/hour H-1B visa job

How much does your mom currently make?

sonnytai8 karma

Roughly $15 an hour. She works at home as a Mandarin interpreter.

She has taken a lot of odd jobs - she started a pretty successful furniture ecommerce business with my stepfather that died during the GFC.

But she's really good at saving and I also help financially like a good Asian boy should do.


Your mom should be doing an AMA not you.

sonnytai6 karma

Agreed, she is a boss.

Ambercapuchin0 karma

Love your idea and your story op. This could definitely be a great tool!

Real networks has been making great inroads into shape recognition. Very few people know or care because it's all for closed security systems for private enterprises. Many, if not most security systems are not cloud integrated.

It seems like your major hurdles in the USA will be acquiring cooperation and trust.

How do you forsee new integrations happening? How will you gain trust?

sonnytai5 karma

Thank you!

We understand that trust is earned, not given. We gain trust by:

  • Putting integrity first and foremost - do the right thing and say the right thing even when it can be financially detrimental to do so in the short term
  • Show, don't tell - allow customers to extensively test the technology before we send them a contract.
  • Hire high character people who realize that their job is to help customers solve problems. It they do so, they will sell, but selling is a result of solving problems, not the objective itself.

Ambercapuchin2 karma

Great response! Thanks.

A term you used that I agree wholeheartedly with: selling is a result of solving problems.

It may be a big push to find businesses/muni's with video infrastructure that think of "maybe a gunman someday" is a problem that's theirs to solve. I imagine them weighing the "maybe" against the "ai is watching us" bad feelings and you rarely getting a win.

What does the product/service give to the customer daily? What will remind them they bought something that does a useful/profitable/dopamining thing?

sonnytai3 karma

What does the product/service give to the customer daily? What will remind them they bought something that does a useful/profitable/dopamining thing?

  • If you're talking about gun detection - likely nothing. Perhaps peace of mind that there's a defensive measure in place that will alert a dispatch center / security as soon as a weapon is drawn.
  • About our other capabilities (detecting intrusion / loitering etc), we catch break-ins on a daily basis. I did not know how much crime there was until I started working in this industry.

Avachiel-1 karma

Hello, thanks so much for doing this AMA.

As someone who is poor, but would like to leave America and has no money - what would you recommend?

I'd like to leave this place to find a better life in a better place, but I've never had to even think about the process or how much it costs.

sonnytai7 karma

If you are poor, don't leave America.

America is the best country in the world for social mobility.

Remember, it takes money to immigrate to Europe, and even if you do, you likely won't qualify for their generous social welfare systems as a non-citizen.

We have a big problem in this country with wealth inequality, but unfortunately you're unlikely to find the grass to be greener somewhere else.

Do everything you can to learn one valuable skill - coding, excel modeling, plumbing, truck driving, fixing cars. Once you do, you'll likely be able to live a pretty comfortable life.

Avachiel3 karma

Thank you for the advice.

I guess it makes sense, but also every day I feel less and less secure in this country.

Public places are a threat now. I have to wonder, "Is this the type of place that might get shot up?" no matter where I go.

Education is abysmal, when I have children I would like them to have access to the best of the world and no public school in America comes close to that.

Our food and water are tainted, like in Flint, to the point where I can't drink water in my home - I have to buy it.

My police don't protected me, they're more likely to shoot me. They don't actually have to protect me by law - they're more interested in protecting themselves - even over children.

My government lies to me regularly and when its face changes nothing else does. Corruption, greed, and constant warfare. I don't really want to condone it by being part of it.

So with all that in mind, do I really actually have any options?

sonnytai2 karma

It's hard for me to relate to be honest. We were always lower middle class growing up, but I don't think we endured as much hardship as you, and as Asian people, the police generally don't give us issues.

Is joining the military an option? The pay and benefits are good, and you'll rate the GI Bill when you get out.

legoshi_loyalty-1 karma

What is the kitty’s name??!?

sonnytai2 karma

Riku! But I just call him "baby"

mosneagubeat-10 karma

If you’re so passionate, why not just lobby for limits on gun sales and the banning of assault rifles for the general population?

Oh, profits. The idea of kids/adults living at risk of being shot feeds your bottom line.


sonnytai2 karma

Because I'm a terrible politician / activist and nobody is going to listen to me.

Because there are many approaches to tackling the gun violence epidemic, and legislative efforts have made no progress over the past several decades

Because capitalistic innovation has and will continue to play a role in making our world a better place.

LambBrainz-16 karma

Better idea: ditch this project and use that $10M to buy some politicians and buy some meaningful control laws

Random question so the bot leaves me alone?

sonnytai31 karma

If $10M could buy increased gun regulation, it would've been done decades ago.

There are a critical mass of very passionate and politically powerful gun owners in our country who perceive any efforts to regulate weapons as an infringement on their rights.

Technology is by no means a panacea, but it is one avenue that we can use to mitigate the gun violence epidemic alongside any legislative / regulatory efforts.