Crime. The social aspects of it, the repercussions from it and the simple fear of it are major factors in people’s lives. Local politicians like to talk about how they’ll crack down on crime. Inner-city economically impoverished people tend to get sucked into it by necessity. And most recently, corporations make boat-loads of cash by militarizing police departments to react to it.
What if we could reduce crime in such a massive and substantial way, that it would no longer be a crime? In some respects, just the thought of that tends to bring to mind police-state images from stories like 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and even The Hunger Games. But the more accurate movie that may just portray the closest to our real future, may be Minority Report.
In this second part at looking at the science faction of the Minority Report movie, I’ll briefly cover one of the hottest forms of technology that most people probably did not even know was real: Predicting and stopping crimes before they happen.
The idea of predicting crime has been around for a long time. Cops tend to know which neighborhoods have historically had high crime rates, allowing them to focus their efforts there. While, in the past, these kinds of predictions were more instinctual and based on experience, in the twenty-first century, it’s a little more complicated.
Multiple companies offer crime prediction software, including IBM, Motorola and Predpol. These companies use advanced algorithms combined massive amounts of data to actually predict the type, time and location of crimes over the next 24 hours. The Rand Corporation, a global think-tank originally created to provide research data to the military, even put out a report in 2013 about the importance of a predictive justice system. At first, it might seem like this might not be terribly useful. Without knowing who the criminal or victim is, is it really that helpful?
The answer is yes. Simply knowing the general location of a future crime, allows the police to direct their patrols in that area. First, this allows for a FAR faster response time, possibly saving lives and helping to capture the offender. But second, and more importantly, the simple presence of the police will have a strong deterrent effect, possibly even preventing the crime in the first place.
Predicting crime based on demographics has its potential problems, not the least of which is predicting a crime where one ISN’T going to happen. As The Verge reported last year, some people have been approached by cops who just want to pop by and say “Hey! We’re watching you.”
The question then comes down to not just can we do better, but should we? Back in 2013, NPR ran an interview with Kent Kiehl, from the University of New Mexico. The interview covered a bit of the ethics involved with using brain scans to determine if someone is going to/likely to commit a crime.
One of the specifics, is that the scan measures impulsivity. What this comes down to, is that people who act more impulsively are more likely to commit crimes. They have apparently been able to fine tune the readings to the point of being pretty accurate (no statistics given).
Another technology that I’ll cover more next time, is the ability to scan a person’s retina or iris from as far away as 30 meters. Since retina patterns and iris patterns are as unique as fingerprints, this tech makes it possible for a person or a computer to identify you with just a glance.
If we combine these three technologies: demographic predictions, brainwave scan modeling and remote individual identification, we have the ability to keep track of every single person and know whether they are about to commit a crime, effectively creating a precrime awareness.
Does the ability to know of a crime before it happens give us a better world? Or does it give us a terrifying god-like police force that micromanages our daily lives?
That right there? That’s the tough question. That is the question whose answer will determine what kind of a society humankind will create.