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“A.I. or P.I.?” (a 21st Century Dilemma)

By: Nancy Swaim, President & Owner, The SWAIM390 Companies, Inc.


My chosen career of private investigations has adapted to and adopted technology that reshapes the speed and the accuracy with which we work. Its benefit is to modernize a field that once was looked down on as inhabited by “the gumshoe with the cheap suit and bad haircut.” I am pleased to have contributed to modernizing the business model when I started my own investigations firm in 2001. We utilize tools that power-boost capabilities with technology that supports analysis, objectivity, tenacity, motivation and, yes, common sense.


As such, the modern private investigator embraces and integrates technology into everyday tasks-conducting proprietary and online databased research, efficient report production, spontaneous communication with clients, remote work stations, immediate access to international casework, working with professional resources on a global basis, real-time reporting results from the field, secure communications and file storage, resources we now take for granted.


Without tech, P.I.’s would be a relic of the past, waxing nostalgic for “The Maltese Falcon.” A contemporary model for speed and accuracy must deliver product to meet client’s deadlines and quick turnarounds. “Can we get a super-rush background check on…?” This assignment is confidently accepted, knowing it can be turned around accurately in a fraction of the time compared to the Jurassic age of visiting multiple locations to obtain court, property, tax and the other records that make up a person’s on-paper profile.


Such is the endless horizon of the data universe we have created. Until, and IF, it starts to control US.


Acquiring a new computer inherits a new Operating System aka the Evil Empire. The computer speed picks up but one gets an onslaught of unwanted apps imbedded into the computer like a battalion of chiggers. They populate the screen with all kinds of apps previously avoidable. What had been solved before by clicking “Decline” now automatically burrows into a pristine new computer.


My new OS and I have now mostly reached a détente in which I ignore many of the pop-ups and do what I can every day to minimize the constant intrusions into my work by MY own computer.


Which brings us to the A.I. app that rhymes with, let’s say, constantly anno-YING. It hangs around like a younger sibling, constantly interrupting. Yesterday it wanted to chat about the Freddie Mercury Auction. Today, it wanted to chat about the NFL season. Chat?


Whenever I am tempted to challenge it to actually help me do research, it suddenly changes from chirpy chat into HAL from “2001:” “I’m sorry, Dave, I can’t do that.” It doesn’t seem capable of doing any serious work-does that mean it hasn’t done its homework?


Fortunately, I am aware of several other A.I. programs recommended to me by 19-year olds and techies that are both free and constructive when given focused and deliberate search terms.


A.I. can develop and adapt as we impose on it to become a product like database or an Internet searches. It has many practical uses in critical fields, law enforcement, medicine, banking, education and more to be discovered. It could supercharge the hundreds of searches my business conducts every day. A.I. could assist searches in litigation support data, employ accurate and fresh data in pre-employment and other background checks, conduct thorough asset searches to enable our clients to recover monetary judgments.


Delivering accurate and timely information to clients is the private investigator’s objective. Will A.I. take our place? Can A.I. sit surveillance and follow a subject? Driverless cars have already shown us this is not ready for primetime. Can A.I. serve a subpoena? Doubtful. Can A.I. identify archival property documents for me? Find a person with an old Southern name who lived in Hemet in the 1960’s? Only if I tell it the name was more likely from Texas. Note: it was, and we found it on a dusty Rolodex card in the Redlands Library with no A.I. boost.


As we learn to understand how A.I. works and what it can and cannot do, it is critical not to be overwhelmed by it but not to rely on it but teach it and use it as a search tool. That’s our job, and we must approach it responsibly, not be led by it. To borrow from another Bogey vehicle, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Just cut the “chat.”



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