Are We Already Living in a "Minority Report" World?

While I will admittedly join the ranks of those impressed with the rapid speed with which law enforcement officials were able to identify and engage the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon tragedy, there is still something that bothers me about using technology to figure out who will perpetrate crimes in the future. Yet that is exactly what law enforcement officials are doing in Maryland and Pennsylvania:

"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."

While this in undoubtedly interesting, and while it is possible that the technology could neutralize biases and preconceived notions of those who keep track of ex-cons, and while it could possibly even cut down crime, it is also true that there is a real presumption of a lack of free will surrounding these tools. Yet another trade-off our tech-dependent society has declared itself willing to make, perhaps, but not one which should go unnoticed, at least not in my humble opinion.


  1. Anonymous23/4/13 13:41

    Fascinating post! But I disagree that the program presumes a lack of free will.

    Instead, think of this as a gambling "game" played by police, with lives at stake. Some ex-cons may commit murder, or none. Police have limited resources. They must place "bets" in the form of using resources (primarily officer time) to observe some ex-cons and not others. Which will reform and which will falter?

    Free will keeps the game honest, but it also makes it beatable. When you call an inveterate bluffer, you don't question his free will; you bank on it. His free will makes whether he is bluffing more than a random occurrence. Because he can choose, you can predict his choice.

  2. Hi Anon,

    Thanks for the interesting point of view. I am not quite sure you have swayed me, but you have certainly given me food for thought.