Startup Uses ‘Ethical AI’ to Avoid Racial Profiling in Shoplifting Monitoring

Concept of Intelligence with Human Brain on Blue Background

Percepta, a year-old security startup out of University of Pennsylvania, is making moves this summer — namely in that four of its five cofounders are graduating from undergrad next week and are joining the Pennovation Accelerator in September to take next steps with business and development of their AI-based retail security product.

The tech uses what the cofounders call “ethical” artificial intelligence to anonymize shoppers’ race, gender and age for loss-prevention teams.

Instead of using regular video surveillance, the AI tracks shoppers’ body movements — scanning for employees, looking up for cameras or putting products in their clothing. Then, an image of a person the tech found highly probable of having shoplifted is sent via a mobile app to the store’s loss prevention team, who ultimately make the decision to intervene or not.

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“It’s a social good, but it’s also a competitive advantage,” CEO Philippe Sawaya told “We’ve seen that the public perception of AI is that it can be biased, and the public just isn’t going to accept that.”

Cofounders Sawaya, Neil Gramopadhye, Jonathan Mak, Alexander Lee and Rahul Shekhar began working on the concept in various classes during their time in undergrad. Sawaya, Mak, Lee and Shekhar will all graduate next week from Penn Engineering and the College of Arts & Sciences, while Gramopadhye will enter his senior year in the fall…

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