In The Minority Report, a 2002 film based on a Philip K. Dick short story, future police work is entirely predictive.Members of the “PreCrime” division rely on the clairvoyance of special “precogs” to identiy infractions and intervene before they happen. It’s a suggestive scenario – one where security is assured but at what ethical cost?
Due to advances in data science and analytics, predictive policing is no longer science fiction. According to a recent article in The Economist, police departments across the globe are starting to adopt some of the samepredictive tools and techniques at work in the Industrial Internet.
“Criminal offences, like infectious disease, form patterns in time and space,” argues the article. “A burglary in a placid neighbourhood represents a heightened risk to surrounding properties; the threat shrinks swiftly if no further offences take place. These patterns have spawned a handful of predictive products which seem to offer real insight...
“Police attending domestic disturbances in Los Angeles have tried out a checklist, derived from much data-crunching, to determine whether the incident presages violence… Federal officials aim to forecast potential health and safety infringements. America’s Department of Homeland Security is seeking to perfect software which scans crowds or airport queues to detect nervous behaviour such as fidgeting, shallow breathing and signs of a swift heartbeat.
“So far, predictions have mostly been made about people who have already had contact with the justice system—such as convicted criminals. The growth of social media provides a lot of crunchable data on everyone else. Firms that once specialised in helping executives measure how web users feel about their brands now supply products that warn police when civil unrest approaches, and help them closely follow crises.”
Of course, predictive policing has the potential to increase bias. Analytics applied to arrest records, vs. criminal convictions, could reinforce uneven enforcement in some communities. And some critics urge that harvesting insight from social media should require the same types of court oversight as home searches do.