Computers That Accurately Guess What Gangs Did What Crimes

from the minority-report? dept

A few folks sent over this report of efforts by some researchers at UCLA to create an algorithm that can accurately take data on existing gang-related crimes, and use it to predict what gangs were involved in new crimes. It certainly has that “minority report — pre-crime” feel to it, though I can certainly see where it could be useful. What concerns me, though, is that systems like this are only as accurate as the data they use. And, as has been reported elsewhere, one of the unintended consequences of such computer analysis of crime data is that it drives police departments to falsify or change crime reports in order to make their own numbers look better. So it makes you wonder how accurate those reports will be if the incentives to fudge the actual crime data continue to be in place.

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Comments on “Computers That Accurately Guess What Gangs Did What Crimes”

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22 Comments
PW (profile) says:

The cost of being wrong

Where this sort of tech is nice when applied to targeted advertising or what music you’re likely to like, it’s always disconcerting when it’s applied to more serious endeavors. While most of these systems are never more than 70% accurate (if that), let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and call it 90% accurate. That means that 10% of the time someone is being treated like a criminal that genuinely isn’t. Note the number of false positives that arose from the “No Fly List”. Too many to justify the system that’s for sure. To those adversely affected, it’s a nightmare that has a traumatic affect on their lives. Given that I’ve yet to see any of these systems live up to their hype, and the signals they use are often insufficient to meet their stated goals, I really wish people would put more energy into making sure the ads I get are really relevant ๐Ÿ˜‰

TechnoMage (profile) says:

There is something called the CS Heisenberg Principle

It isn’t ‘exactly’ what is described here, but in general, You can’t actually measure how good a Computer based system is working without slowing down/altering the performance of that system.

The relationship of how ‘knowing something’ will end up altering it… seems relevant here.

That being said, this isn’t ‘exactly’ right, but I get the same feeling here. Basically the more that people know this method is being used, the more that people will use it “swat” other gangs. (IE… perform a gang attack ‘where/how/when’ another (you’re competitor) is ‘suppose’ to do a crime, and then have them blamed for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Accuracy is relative, with that being said if it is used for leads and not as an authoritative form of anything for convicting someone and it is used as an ancillary tool I don’t see the problem, it could point people on the right direction with the need for an actual investigation.

But really what is needed is a total retraining of the police force they don’t know how to operate in a world with civilians, the organization is incompetent not because there is no intelligent person in there but because the culture inside is dumb, something people call collective intelligence, the ground rules are wrong and so the outcomes from those institutions are unacceptable.

DannyB (profile) says:

The Batcomputer

The batcomputer was guessing which criminals did what crimes, way back in the 1960’s. These UCLA researchers are way behind the times.

Furthermore, in the episode “The Londinium Larcenies”, where the evil Lord Ffogg was stealing the queen’s priceless snuff boxes, and Batman had to be called across the Atlantic because the venerable Ireland Yard was unable to solve the crime, the Batcomputer (and other bat cave equipment) was set up in a dungeon directly below a country manor conveniently located directly below a country manor rented by Bruce Wayne. So obviously the bat computer also runs on 220 volts. Did those UCLA researchers think of that?

(Do I win the prize for longest run on sentence?)

Overcast (profile) says:

it isn’t like they’re going to run right out and arrest these people! this will just provide more data to lead to actual investigation.

At the moment – that is true. At the moment.

Of course, that’s all what was said about the cameras at intersections too – “they will never actually issue tickets… ” blah, blah, blah.

Oh yeah, lol – ans this too..

Social Security Number – “never to be used for purposes of identification”

Humanity’s legacy is one big long line of “things that won’t/can’t happen” – and then they do, almost always to the benefit of the powerful and to the demise of the common people.

Overcast (profile) says:

“I worry about this kind of thing, it’s not computers taking over the world. It’s the operators.”

Sorta…

Remember that line from the movie Tron?

“Dr. Walter Gibbs: Won’t that be grand? Computers and the programs will start thinking and the people will stop.”

But yes, in the end it’s the people who are paying to put all these computer networks together – and it’s not done out of a love for technology – that might be why most of us are in the business – but for much of the world – computers are about *control*.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is just a computerized version of profiling. Humans do it too. Different criminals and gangs have different modes of operations and if we see a crime, we try to associate the criminal of one crime to other crimes based on various characteristics and based on a criminals MO. Do people always make accurate guesses? No. Neither will computers. The computer is only as accurate as the data and algorithms fed to it and even then there likely is no perfect algorithm. GIGO.

Anonymous Coward says:

Kill it with fire

This smacks of the same stuff of which the ‘lie detector’ is made. Good technology saddled with bad data and a heaps of piss-poor assumptions and conjecture that prove nothing and generate mountains of false leads.

The only thing this app is going to do is further blunt the already dull tools that comprise the bulk of our police forces.

Try sticking with good old detective work.

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