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Duly Noted: Pre-Crime


Minority Report (2002)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Shown: Tom Cruise

Philip K. Dick wrote The Minority Report back in 1956. Forty-six years later, Steven Spielberg turned it into a gorgeous film chronicling a dystopian futurescape where cops arrest would-be criminals before they can commit a crime, based on the psychic testimonies of three “pre-cog” mutants who can see into the future.

Little did Dick know in 1956 that his treatise could serve as a potential handbook for dealing with the gun violence epidemic we face in the U.S. today. Except I’m not talking about psychic powers. I’m talking about Big Data.

We seem to be at a crossroads between two very opposed viewpoints. One sees the 2nd amendment as sacrosanct — a God-given right over which any proposed reform or control legislation would be nothing short of draconian in its application.

The other side turned out millions strong last month to voice their anger at the spate of school shootings and general culture of gun violence that permeates American culture. Led by teenage survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day, the “March For Our Lives” protests resonated across the nation in surging numbers.

Put quite bluntly, the kids are pissed.

And their collective might — as numerous as it is — faces an uphill battle against an entrenched pro-gun lobby, organized under the deep pockets of the National Rifle Association’s seemingly endless coffers and significant campaign contributions. Colorado’s own Senator Cory Gardner (R) received $3.88 million in donations, in fact.

Compromise between these two camps seems unreachable.

But a solution may lie not in more restrictive laws, or throwing up our hands and “praying the guns away.”

Predictive analytics might be the best possible solution. It’s the practice of using vast data pools, machine learning and data modeling to literally predict future events.

As we were reminded last month — thanks to the scurrilous activities of the Cambridge Analytica team in 2014 mining more than 50 million Facebook users’ data — the digital footprints we leave are not only prolific, they’re inescapable. Everything we do today generates data… from the movements of our phone along the cellular grids to GPS connected-cars to internet-connected home appliances to social media engagements to loyalty retail shopper cards to credit card purchases to ATM withdrawals to Fitbits and other wearables… Whatever it is each of us does now is captured, logged and stored in a database. To the tune of more than 2.5 exabytes a day, or the equivalent of about 90 years of HD video. Again: that’s every, single day.

And in it all hides the patterns.

The would-be domestic terrorist’s social media ramblings. His internet searches on bomb-making recipes. His frequent trips to the gun range. His disciplinary file from high school. His rap sheet. His predilection for fascist rhetoric. His mail order ammunition purchases. And a billion other data points — which, on their own might seem completely benign, but to the AI mechanics of a predictive algorithm might signal something far more sinister.

And then, once those things are processed and a score is assigned, maybe an alarm is triggered. And authorities are alerted and then a warrant is issued for surveillance. And then, based on this data and follow-up investigation, intervention is applied.

I don’t know what that looks like. If it were me, it would be like a watch-list — something that makes it harder for this particular individual to access weapons. Perhaps some sort of counseling. But something.

If it all sounds like an invasion of privacy, well, it is. But you’re a fool if you think this kind of data mining isn’t already happening and in most cases, very legally. The right to privacy is a wisp of smoke trailing after the bonfire of the explosion of the digital age.

And yes, Dick’s book was a warning to us all about the power of information used improperly. But until the gun-rights crowd accepts that even their precious 2nd amendment rights might be subject to some level of oversight — just like all the rest of the Bill of Rights — then we’re gonna have to come up with something.

And if you don’t like the idea of pre-crime?

Well this is how you get pre-crime.



French Davis
Meet Dave Flomberg | Writer, musician, creative director (aka French Davis). There is so much to say about Dave aka French that we think you should read these articles: https://yellowscene.com/2020/02/29/french-davis-a-master-of-many/ ••• https://shoutoutcolorado.com/meet-dave-flomberg-writer-musician-creative-director

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