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AI security system to be tested at 2017 Tokyo Marathon

A member of the "running police" team, center, is seen here together with regular marathon runners at the 2016 Tokyo Marathon in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward in February 2016. (Mainichi)

An artificial intelligence (AI) based security system will be used for the first time at the 2017 Tokyo Marathon on Feb. 26, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

    Although the AI system will only be used on a trial basis, the main organizer of the marathon, the Tokyo Marathon Foundation, welcomes its introduction, saying, "This is the first time for AI-based security to be used at a marathon anywhere in the world. We want this to be the first year, and to keep building from here in the future."

    Looking ahead, there is also a good chance that AI-based security could be used at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020 -- if the system is proven to be sufficiently effective.

    Ever since the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon in 2013, the Tokyo Marathon Foundation has been working with organizations including the Metropolitan Police Department on a security support program, starting with the Tokyo Marathon in 2014. At the Tokyo Marathon in 2016, approximately 6,000 security guards -- including guides -- were deployed, and about 70 metal detectors were used, for security purposes.

    At the 2016 marathon, a "running police" team -- equipped with small head cameras -- ran along the route, on the lookout for potential security threats. In addition, a face recognition system was used at the starting point to check in some of the participating runners.

    Under the system to be used at the 2017 Tokyo Marathon, AI will analyze information transmitted from security cameras placed on the marathon route, as well as information sent from spectators via social networking services. Any information that represents a potential security threat will be sent to security guards on the route -- so that the issue can be dealt with before it can escalate. From 2018 onward, it is hoped that microphones will also be added.

    Tadaaki Hayano, race director at the Tokyo Marathon Foundation said he expected the AI based security system to be completed just before 2020.

    The 2017 Tokyo Marathon is the 11th edition of the event, which kicked off in 2007. The route goes past some of Tokyo's most famous tourist spots, such as Ginza and Asakusa, and about 36,000 top athletes and city runners take part. From this year, the marathon will finish outside Tokyo Station in Chiyoda Ward, as opposed to the traditional spot of Big Sight in Koto Ward.

    Globally speaking, it is common for high-profile marathons to finish outside a famous tourist attraction, such as Buckingham Palace on the London Marathon route. The Tokyo Marathon received some criticism from organizers of other city marathons, who said that while the front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building was possibly the best starting point in the world, the finishing point was "slightly uninspiring." As a result, the finishing line for the 2017 Tokyo Marathon was changed.

    However, changing the finishing point to a more high-profile location means that a large number of spectators are expected to gather around the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station, and therefore improved security will be necessary.

    "The security considerations are much heavier than during previous races. We have been carrying out review after review," Hayano said.

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