Minority Report Has Arrived: Maryland and Pennsylvania Using Computers to Predict Future Crimes

Harriet Arkell, Daily Mail (London), January 11, 2013

When police in Minority Report predicted who would commit crimes and stopped them before they did it, it was considered so futuristic, the film was set in 2054.

Now, however, law enforcers in two American states are using crime-prediction software to predict which freed prisoners are most likely to commit murder, and supervising them accordingly.

Instead of relying on parole officers to decide how much supervision inmates will need on the outside by looking at their records, the new system uses a computer algorithm to decide for them.

The Minority Report-style software is already being used in Baltimore and Philadelphia to predict future murderers, and will be extended to Washington D.C. soon.

It has been developed by Professor Richard Berk, a criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who believes it will reduce the murder rate and those of other crimes.

Prof. Berk says his algorithm could be used to help set bail amounts and also decide sentences in the future.  It could also be modified to predict lesser crimes.

He told ABC News that currently parole officers are using their own judgment to decide what level of supervision each parolee should have, based on their criminal record.

His software, he said, replaces that ‘ad-hoc’ decision making, and should identify eight future murderers out of 100.

He said: ‘People assume that if someone murdered then they will murder in the future, but what really matters is what that person did as a young individual.

‘If they committed armed robbery at age 14, that’s a good predictor.

‘If they committed the same crime at age 30, that doesn’t predict very much.’

Prof. Berk’s researchers used the details of more than 60,000 crimes then wrote an algorithm to find the people behind the crimes who were more likely to commit murder when they were out of prison.

Criteria including criminal record, type of crime, location, and age at which the individual committed the crime were analysed, with type of crime and age proving to be the most reliable predictors of future crime.

He said even his students at the University of Pennsylvania compared his work to Minority Report, the 2002 film starring Tom Cruise in which gifted humans called ‘PreCogs’ can see into the future and predict who will commit crimes.

In the film, Cruise plays the elite crime squad head Chief John Anderton, who himself is accused of committing a murder in the future.

Prof. Berk’s work has been described as ‘very impressive’ by Shawn Bushway, a professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Albany.

However he cautioned that human rights campaigners might see that the extra supervision mandated by the software for those deemed most likely to murder might amount to harassment.

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  • Puggg

    Minority Report, or reporting minorities?

    • SintiriNikos

      I always wondered about the title. Was Philip K. Dick an un-PC writer after all?

      • Anglokraut

        The term “minority report” just refers to a dissenting juror. Think Henry Fonda in “12 Angry Men”.

        • SintiriNikos

          Thanks for the explanation, Anglokraut.

      • “Was Philip K. Dick an un-PC writer after all?”

        In Dick’s novel, The Man in the High Castle, Germany and Japan won WWII and split the United States between them. If I remember correctly, the only blacks in the novel were slaves owned by wealthy Japanese.

        • SintiriNikos

          Interesting, thanks George.

  • David Ashton

    Scientific criminology should start with Eysenck and Rushton rather than Marx and Freud.

  • 48224

    I wonder how long it will take Al Sharpton to get this science declared RACIST just like racial profiling?
    I keep waiting for security cameras to be declared racist because (for some odd reason) they seem to tape mostly young black males committing crimes.

    • The__Bobster

      Based on disperate impact, the cameras already are.

      • 48224

        At some point in the future (I hope) that people will wake up and this age of political correctness will be seen on the same level as things like, the Salem witch hunt, the earth is flat, diseases are caused by angry gods….and other nonsense. In other words, I hope people will embrace reality and science more than legends, wishful thinking and gods.

  • JackKrak

    “…the people behind the crimes who were more likely to commit murder when they were out of prison.”
    I’ve been staring at this for a while & I can’t get my head around this. “More likely to commit murder when they were out of prison”. What?

    BTW – I resent the fact that we have to put everything in terms of pop-culture crap to make it accessible to the open-mouthed breathers out there.

    • IstvanIN

      Maybe he meant to differentiate between blacks who commit murder IN prison?

  • bigone4u

    The story does not say whether race is an explicit variable in the professor’s algorithm. If race is missing, the algorithm is flawed to the extent that it is worthless.
    As it is, I’ll bet Amren readers could study the anonymous youth criminal records of 100 men, some of whom are murderers, and pick out the murderers with a higher degree of accuracy than the algorithm. Back to your computer, Professor.

  • StillModerated

    Rapes, robberies, murders, muggings and dope-pushing will not be the crimes they seek out. Racism, sexism, lookism, age-ism, male chauvinist piggery, homophobia, anit-semitism, mohammedophobia, and other thoughtcrimes will be.

  • Joseph

    If this program has any predictive accuracy at all it will quickly be determined to be a racist white invention to further marginalize minorities.

  • Kaffirsmasher

    The inbuilt “racism” we all have works far better as a crime-predicting computer than this turd ever could. I instinctively know by skin color, speech/movement patterns and more who to avoid or not. They’re probably going to feed it every piece of school shooting data they can get their hands on so they can artificially skew white males up to higher profiles just so they don’t upset the minorities. And since it’s “science”, unfortunately a lot of liberal sheep are going to buy everything it predicts (unless, of course, it works as it should and starts pinpointing minorities over 90% of the time).

    • George White

      Yes…as an inner city teacher, I can tell in two seconds. If they’re saggin’ you can bet they’re not nice people.

      • Anglokraut

        A teacher in an “urban” school district? You may be the bravest of us all! Have you and your fellow educators developed a similar system to figure out who will graduate, like “illiterate until age 10”, “numbers make him furious”, “responds to music”, and so on?
        I’d ask my educator friends if they do this, but I’ve learned that for the teachers I know, the instant they get their teacher’s union membership card, their brains just stop thinking about anything but their lesson plans, and keeping their benefits. I admire teachers–I wanted to be one, myself–but not at such a high cognitive price.

        • saxonsun

          I have friends who teach and some in the Bronx. The union is the only protection they have against a system so insane it just can’t be real…but it is.

    • saxonsun

      And even blacks know that their kind commit the crimes. Ride the NYC subway. Watch a noisy, nasty group of young black males blow through. The blacks keep the sharpest and most cautious eye peeled when this occurs.

    • StillModerated

      Staring into their shifty yellow eyes is the best indicator.

  • 1proactive2

    I have to admit, it is possible to make reasonably accurate predictions about future murderers in many cases. Other felonies almost certainly.

  • Andy

    8 out of 100? And the other 92 will be flagged as not in need of supervision?

  • LHathaway

    “8 out of 100? And the other 92 will be flagged as not in need of supervision”?

    No. I think it means that 100 trouble-makers found more-likely-to-murder, all of them will be given more supervision. . because, in this case, 8 out of 100 of them will commit murder again.

    But isn’t extra supervision harassment – isn’t it already ‘proven’ that people only commit crimes and murder because of ‘oppressions’? Aren’t all bad things people of color do caused by the oppression they face. Wouldn’t this world be a paradise if it were not for prejudice, racism and discrimination? Except for whites, of course, when they do bad things it’s proof they are they oppressors.

  • A. Windaus

    It would be interesting to see what weighting certain events in people’s lives are given towards making a future murderer, but I assume the algorithm will never see the light of day.

  • Tom_in_Miami

    What difference will “closer supervision” make, and, for that matter, what is it? The guy goes to his parole officer every week instead of every month?

  • Screamin_Ruffed_Grouse

    Oh dear Lord. People have been predicting future felons since the dawn of time. Fancy software and algorithms are hardly neccessary. It’s so simple even blacks can do it. For instance, take Chris Rock: “If the kid calls his grandmother “Mama” and his mama “Pam,” he goin’ to jail!”

    • Anglokraut

      I’m a fan of the Monty Burns method of determining criminality: phrenology!

      • Joseph

        Makes sense. If they have the skull shape of a sub-Saharan they are likely to become criminals.