Is it possible to predict whether someone will commit a crime some time in the future?
It sounds like an idea from the 2002 science-fiction movie Minority Report.
But that’s what statistical researcher Richard Berk, from the University of Pennsylvania, hopes to find out from work he’s carried out this year in Norway.
Is it possible to predict whether someone will commit a crime some time in the future? It sounds like an idea from the 2002 science-fiction movie Minority Report (pictured). But that’s what researcher Richard Berk, from the University of Pennsylvania, is hoping to find out
Data scientists are designing algorithms that teach computers to identify patterns in large data sets.
Once the computer can identify patterns, it can apply its findings to predict outcomes, even from data that has never seen before.
Whether the algorithms used in machine learning can accurately predict human behaviour is dependent on having as much data as possible.
This can include the number of prior arrests of a different groups of people, age of first arrest, type of crime or crimes committed and number of prior convictions.
So far, such systems have been predict accurately who would be a low-risk individual.
The trouble, though, is that the algorithms are nowhere near as accurate in predicting who would be a high-risk individual.
The Norwegian government collects massive amounts of data about its citizens and associates it with a single identification file.
Berk hopes to crunch the data from the files of children and their parents to see if he can predict from the circumstances of their birth whether a child will commit a crime before their 18th birthday.
The problem here is that newborn babies haven’t done anything yet.
The possible outcome of Berk’s experiment would be to pre-classify some children as ‘likely criminals’ based on nothing more than the circumstances of their birth.