When Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report was released in 2002, the notion of “pre-crime” led to many discussions of whether such a technology could — or should — become real. A mere decade later, science fiction is becoming science fact. A number of U.S. cities, including Baltimore and Philadelphia, are currently testing software that predicts a criminal’s actions before they commit another crime. Washington D.C. is next on the list to test the new “pre-crime” software.
According to Wired, University of Pennsylvania professor Richard Berk developed the software to track criminal behavior. The software calculates the likelihood of a paroled criminal’s chance of committing the same crime in the future. It doesn’t require creepy precogs in a wading pool, but rather tells a parole officer what degree of supervision a newly paroled convict needs.
Researchers gathered data from more than 60,000 crimes. Berk developed an algorithm to predict the likelihood of a repeat offense from convicts who were paroled or on probation. The software then uses other variables, like the criminal’s past record, geographical location, type of crime, and the criminal’s age when they committed the crime, to predict if they will commit the same crime again. Burk explains:
People assume that if someone murdered then they will murder in the future. But what really matters is what that person did as a young individual. If they committed armed robbery at age 14 that’s a good predictor. If they committed the same crime at age 30, that doesn’t predict very much.
The comparisons to Spielberg’s Minority Report are obvious, but Burk insists that his software is very different than what the precogs were doing in this film, and that we are a long way, in terms of technology, before we see predictive crimefighting anywhere near what we saw in the film.