LAS VEGAS—At this year’s CES tech show, products that pair cameras, sensors and artificial intelligence have a compelling offer: We will make your life safer and more convenient—you just have to be OK with a little more monitoring than you might be used to.

Tech companies have been easing us into gadgets and services that make use of virtual eyes and ears for a while now. Millions of people use virtual assistants that listen for wake words and record what follows. More airports are using facial recognition to speed up travel. And, at least in San Francisco, being followed around by cameras in a cashierless store isn’t really creepy anymore, just a regular part of grabbing lunch.

This kind of sensing is appearing in more places. Take for example, Eyeris, a technology that combines cameras, radar and infrared sensors to know what’s going on in a vehicle.

“Cars can be much, much safer than they are today,” said Modar Alaoui, chief executive officer of Eyeris.

The potential applications of the technology are simultaneously amazing and disconcerting. Object detection could mean knowing you’re about to leave your keys or your bag in an Uber. Face and body analytics will enable automatic adjustment of a steering wheel to just the right position, or the deployment of a size-appropriate air bag, depending on who Is in a given seat. Activity, cognition and emotion analytics systems will be able to detect if you are eating, texting or looking away from the road for too long, so that the car can respond accordingly. If a child is screaming in the back seat, calming music could be cued up. And if you seem distracted, some of the cars autopilot features might kick in to assist you.

At the same time, it isn’t hard to imagine hypothetical scenarios in which such detailed data could be used against a driver. What if your distraction-level data were available to your insurer? Or to lawyers on the opposing side of a lawsuit over liability for an accident?

Mr. Alaoui said car data could someday end up functioning similarly to airplane black boxes that help investigators figure out what happened in the moments leading up to a crash. He expects drivers will want to share the data from their car with insurers.

As for privacy concerns, he said drivers will make data-handling agreements with the car maker, not with Eyeris. In other words, they will have to read the fine print.

“It is definitely something that everyone is thinking about as we get into higher levels of autonomy and utilizing more AI inside the vehicle,” Mr. Alaoui said.

Another company making use of AI and cameras in the safety space is Patriot One Technologies Inc., PAT -0.79% the maker of Patscan, which uses microwave radar, chemical sensing and object detection to covertly detect guns, knives and even drugs.

It could tell, for example, if a weapon is being taken out of a car in the parking lot of a school. Those cameras can be paired with a smart locking system that could automatically secure a building if a weapon is detected on the premises.

The company recently announced a partnership with Ginter Electrical Contractors and the security team for the Cincinnati Reds to install the technology at the team’s Great American Ball Park.

What is perhaps most notable about the platform is how covert it is. “It’s hidden, so you can put it in planters or door frames,” said Scott Ledingham, a spokesman for the company. “No one will even know they’re being scanned.”

The company said it is up to the individual client using the system to decide whether people will be notified in some way that nonphysical screening measures are in place. Facial recognition can be added to the system, but the company says it doesn’t store data associated with specific individuals.

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Law enforcement agencies like the New Orleans Police Department are adopting artificial-intelligence based systems to analyze surveillance footage. WSJ’s Jason Bellini gets a demonstration of the tracking technology and hears why some think it’s a game changer, while for others it’s raising concerns around privacy and potential bias. Photo: Drew Evans/The Wall Street Journal
Patriot One CEO Martin Cronin said he understands that people want to be safe but that they also don’t want mass surveillance.

Fatemeh Khatibloo, an analyst with Forrester Research, said an entire industry is being built on the back of the data that sensors are collecting.

“That is not intrinsically a bad thing,” she said. “The problem is we don’t have the guard rails in place to balance the business benefit, the social impact and human rights.”

Based on the direction things are going, there is a lot to think about: How much disclosure should we get that we’re being filmed, scanned and analyzed?

Ms. Khatibloo said there should be multiple stakeholders including ethicists and technologists working to answer some of these questions, “not just an arbitrary set of business owners who see data as a new revenue source.”


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