Don’t fear Skynet - How AI can help us all be safer

26/04/19 – Author: Martyn O’Connor, MBE – Professional Services Consultant at Somerford Associates

One of the great challenges of Policing is knowing how and where to deploy your limited resource in order to prevent crime. Perhaps a harder choice for Police commanders is deciding what services to cut back on if budgets are restricted. For almost a century, Police forces the world over have been keeping logs of activity, and to some extent have used a rudimentary understanding of crime trends to inform future decisions. However these days we live in an age of rich data sources. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that in many cases we have more data than we know what to do with. It really wouldn’t be practical to have a human being process all of that data and to try to draw out correlations or trends. For that we need to turn to computers. We may be much smarter than them, but they are much better at crunching through data to tell us what it means. 

Most people, I’m sure, have seen the movie “Minority Report”, where the Police Force have a pre-crime unit using psychic individuals to predict crime before it happens. Sadly, we don’t have such an option, and it remains in the realm of science fiction. However, we do have machine learning and artificial intelligence as an alternative. First proposed by none other than Alan Turing in 1950, first really demonstrated by Frank Rosenblatt in 1957, machine learning has come a long way since. These days we have the likes of Tensorflow and Scikit Learn as frameworks for machine learning. Moreover, the vast increases in computational capability in the last 60 years means we can process data at scales unimaginable to those early pioneers. 

So what does this mean for law enforcement? This means we can use historical data around criminal activity, the perpetrators, the victims, even the weather at the time of the crime, in order to draw out deep underlying patterns in the perpetration of crime. This means that we can know the criminal’s mind, perhaps even before they know it themselves. AI and machine learning can tell us where and when patterns of crimes will occur in the future, allowing law enforcement to focus their resources where they will have the greatest effect. This translates to a real world effect – crime rates falling, fewer violent crimes that have life altering effects on the victims, citizens feeling safer as they go about their daily lives. AI has often been cast as the boogeyman that will one day turn against us, but such fears are unfounded. AI is just large scale application of mathematics to see the things that would otherwise go unknown to us. It’s time to embrace the future, and stop criminals in their tracks before they even begin.

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