CCTV cameras could soon 'hear' as well as 'see', if research currently being conducted by scientists at the University of Portsmouth finds its way into the thousands of cameras that exist around Britain.

The researchers say artificial intelligence software could be used adjust the position of CCTV cameras to point towards crime scenes by 'listening out' for the sound of breaking glass or crowd noises. They say cameras could rotate to focus on the relevant area within just 300 milliseconds, helping camera operators spot suspicious behaviour more quickly.

The three-year project could lead to an increase in the number of crimes captured on CCTV, according to the scientists. However, the development of the technology is also likely to lead to new debate about whether technology is increasingly being used to create a 'Big Brother' society.

Dr David Brown, director of the university's Institute of Industrial Research, said the system could eventually be adapted to pick out specific words spoken by those picked up the camera. "The longer artificial intelligence is in the software the more it learns," said Brown, although he insisted the project is not designed to eavesdrop on conversations. "We are only listening for specific words associated with violence, not full conversations."