The Future is Now: Fighting Crime

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The entertainment industry loves to imagine the future of crime. And with future crime comes future crime fighting. So–let’s talk about the future of fighting crime!

We’re not sure if we’ll ever be comfortable with police robots patrolling the streets, nor are we comfortable with notions of law enforcement probing our brains in an attempt to apprehend criminals before they ever commit a crime. Still, there are some very pragmatic tools for fighting crime that read as though they might have emerged from the realm of science fiction. The future of crime fighting is now, and emerging technologies promise to reshape crime fighting as we know it.

The Internet Of (listening) Things

2017 will be remembered for a lot of things, some good, some bad. Certainly one of the most interesting events of the year was allowing an Amazon Echo to “testify” in a murder trial. In March, after a defendant requested they do so, Amazon has agreed to hand over Alexa data to prosecutors in a murder trial. The company had initially refused to do so, saying it sought to protect the privacy rights of its customers, and that Alexa’s questions and answers were protected by the first amendment. While Alexa is constantly listening, it only records data after the “Alexa” (or whatever name one gives their Echo) commands are given. However, the Echo speaker was reportedly streaming music near the incident, and investigators believe it might have been awakened intentionally or accidentally. If so, the presence of a recording could tell them if the defendant was talking with the victim when he said he was sleeping, for instance.

In public, law enforcement agencies are increasingly turning to IoT to reduce crime through efforts such as connected (and listening) lighting posts, body cameras, and new innovations in data acquisition. In 2015, New York City implemented a gunshot detection acoustic surveillance technology called ShotSpotter that uses tiny, inexpensive sensors to detect, locate and alert law enforcement agencies of illegal gunfire incidents in real time. Since then ShotSpotter has provided thousands of alerts on where guns went off, 74% of which weren’t reported by 911. NYPD said ShotSpotter helped recover 32 firearms, including 13 on cases with no 911 call, and has led to 21 arrests. Eight of those arrests had no 911 call.

The big (and growing bigger) question is whether these increases in security are a worthy tradeoff for the corresponding loss of privacy?

In Quantum World, Identity Verifies You

Identity theft is a term used to describe a variety of forms of impersonation and fraud. A key step in identity theft is impersonation, which involves obtaining and presenting some personal identifiers or credentials that will convince another person or institution of the false identity being claimed. Such identifiers traditionally include fingerprints, Social Security Numbers, birth certificates, passports, bank cards, etc. –- But the cost of reproducing or defeating these authentication mechanisms continuously drops, meaning we desperately need a surefire way to identify ourselves using things that nobody can forge or steal from us.

Enter quantum biometric authentication! The basic idea is that nobody can fake your particular quantum funk. Quantum biometric authentication relies on that fact that, at the electromagnetic level, we’re all unique snowflakes. A digital signature formulated by the electromagnetic signals in your body, created from signals that a quantum biometric authentication sensor can detect from any contact point, can provide higher levels of security that are more resistant to hacking and identity theft. In fact, this form of biometric authentication is unique in that it not only identifies the individual but can identify different cognitive states. In other words, it can determine if the user is awake or asleep, sober, focused or unfocused, and detect stress or anxiety levels.

In addition to security, this could have widespread ramifications on public safety in areas such as shipping and trucking, public transportation, and… bars! Imagine a bouncer or bartender being able to detect the precise levels of their patrons’ intoxication. We were going to talk about smart cars detecting whether their drivers are sober enough to drive, but by the time quantum biometric authentication hits commercial primetime, our cars will surely be driving themselves.

Minority Report is (kinda) Real

Could people be locked up just because a computer model says that they are likely to commit a crime? Could all crime end altogether, because an artificial intelligence gets so good at predicting when crimes will occur? Researchers have been working with law enforcement departments to develop predictive algorithms that they can come closer than traditional detective work to figuring out who is most apt to break the law. They say criminals commit violent crimes in predictively distinctive patterns and often have similar attributes. Those include previous arrests; unemployment; an unstable home life; friends and relatives who have been killed, are in prison or have gang ties; and problems with drugs or alcohol.

Companies like HunchLab and PredPol are currently the wunderkinds of predictive policing. They both dig into dozens of other factors like past criminal activity, population density, census data, the locations of bars, churches, schools, and transportation hubs, schedules for home games — even moon phases. Some of the correlations predictive policing software has uncovered are obvious, like fewer crimes on colder days. Others are more mysterious, for example: rates of aggravated assault in Chicago have decreased on windier days, while cars in Philadelphia were stolen more often when parked near schools.

Today only a limited number of studies undertaken to measure the efficacy of predictive policing. At best, predictive policing has shown a ten percent improvement in crime reduction than regular policing methods. The biggest concern thus far has been its seeming penchant for racial profiling. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is actively using a tool named COMPAS (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions) to determine sentencing guidelines for criminals based on a COMPAS generated risk score. They claim that COMPAS risk scoring provides a sound assessment that accurately identifies an offender’s risk to re-offend is the cornerstone of effective supervision. However, a recent ProPublica analysis found that black defendants were 45 percent more likely to get a higher score and twice as likely as white defendants to be misclassified as a higher risk of violent recidivism.

Personally, all this stuff makes us all kinds of uncomfortably itchy. But this ain’t about us, it’s about you. So tell us…

What are your thoughts on the future of crime fighting?

Image Sources:  HunchLab Screenshot/HunchLab, Quantum Sensor UI Mockup/Ram Group
Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons

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