can you stop someone for murder before he even committed the crime? It may seem like a far-fetched idea, and when 2002 Minority report came out, it probably looked like this – a Hollywood sci-fi interpretation of the police gone rogue. But twenty years later, this futuristic sci-fi thriller from Tom Cruise seems awfully relevant to our modern world.
In the film – based on a short story by Philip K. Dick and set in the year 2054 – special humans known as “precogs” predict the future. Police officer John Anderton (Tom Cruise) gathers precog visions into his “Precrime” unit to identify murder victims and arrest the perpetrators before the crime actually happens.
We may not have mutant human “precogs” dispensing visions of the future, but the film’s premise parallels some very real – and highly contested – technology that the police are using in an attempt to stop the crime before it happens: predictive policing.
“One of the problems with predictive policing is that it creates the illusion of greater certainty and is therefore more likely to lead to miscarriages of justice,” said futurist Andrew Curry. Reverse.
Coil Science is a Reverse series that reveals the real (and fake) science behind your favorite movies and series.
What is predictive policing?
The trailer for Minority report (2002).
Precogs aside, predictive policing in real life isn’t all that different from Minority report. It basically involves using computers and large amounts of data to predict where and when crimes are likely to occur.
In fact, the four general categories of predictive policing—methods to predict crimes, predict offenders, identity perpetrators, and predict victims—correspond quite closely to the information that precogs provide in the movie: a timestamp of the murder and the identity of murder victim and assailant.
But in real life, we rely on artificial intelligence to interpret datasets instead of precogs. Based on past crime data, algorithms can generate likely crime hotspots – or, even more controversially, generate a profile of someone more likely to commit a crime than the general population.
For example, suppose hypothetical neighborhood A has a history of car break-ins. Police could use predictive policing to justify placing more patrol cars in this ward compared to ward B. Proponents of predictive policing suggest it is a more accurate way to predict future crime hotspots rather than relying on fallible human memory. Good algorithms can also help us decide if these burglaries are a pattern that is likely to persist over time rather than a one-time event.
“Rather than relying on police to ‘get a feel’ for trouble or remembering that there’s been a series of car break-ins, a good algorithm can find those patterns,” said department chairman Greg Ridgeway. in Criminology from the University of Pennsylvania. recount Reverse.
East Minority report plausible in real life?
In Minority report, Anderton’s program is an experimental program, but with apparently great success. Since the program’s implementation, murder rates have dropped to near zero over the past five years.
Why commit murder if the police are almost guaranteed to arrest you? The idea in the film – and more broadly in real life – is that predictive policing could ultimately deter and reduce crime.
“The idea that artificial intelligence technologies would predict crimes with the same degree of accuracy as in the film is mostly a science fiction invention in my opinion,” said Sven Nyholm, associate professor of philosophy at the University of ‘Utrecht and author of the book. Humans and robots: ethics, agency and anthropomorphism, recount Reverse.
However, Sven says future AI technology could help police predict crimes with a much higher degree of accuracy than we currently can.
“In other words, the future might not look like what we see in Minority report. But it could involve much more accurate crime prediction than is currently possible,” says Nyholm.
That future may be closer than we think. Police departments across the United States have steadily deployed predictive policing over the past decade. The LAPD was one of the first to experiment with the algorithm-based crime prediction method in 2008 – although other California police departments later said the method was not as effective as proponents claim. were suggesting.
Additionally, a recent study by researchers at the University of California used machine learning algorithms to predict the likelihood of a re-arrest within three years of a prisoner’s release.
Should we be worried about predictive policing?
Proponents of predictive policing claim that it helps police intelligently deploy limited resources using empirical data.
“Police would be negligent if they had data and information and didn’t use that information to be smarter about how to use their limited resources,” Ridgeway said.
But civil rights advocates point to significant concerns about predictive policing, such as algorithms reinforcing racial biases about perpetrators and crime hotspots based on past information. You risk criminalizing young men who may not have committed a crime — a reality that vaguely echoes Minority reportthe premise. Nyholm says it’s hard to create an AI without such biases.
“Since you are using historical data as the basis for your predictions, you are effectively entrenching crime patterns. Whatever biases are already present in your policing system are being reinforced,” Curry adds.
Curry also says there is a lack of transparency regarding how these algorithms work.
“A lot of times, even the police forces that use them don’t really know what the algorithms are doing,” Curry says.
Nyholm calls AI technology like predictive policing a “double-edged sword,” potentially making society safer for some groups and less safe for others. The question is whether the costs of predictive policing outweigh its benefits.
Although the specifics of Minority report are a cinematic concoction, the basic idea that law enforcement uses data to predict crime has come true in ways that Philip K. Dick could hardly have foreseen when he broke the news there. is over sixty years old.
“While the film presents a storyline so extreme that it must be considered pure science fiction, the idea that governments use data about their citizens to try to prevent crime is by no means a joke. science fiction,” concludes Nyholm.
Minority report is streaming now on Netflix.