Big Data and Pre-Crime: Science Non-Fiction

Short thesis

Pre-emptive, predictive, preventive. Big Data methodologies in the intelligence community are creating a pre-crime atmosphere, this talk explores how this is done and what we should do about it.


In Phillip K. Dick’s short story The Minority Report there are no murders. How? A system of pre-crime policing that is widely considered to be infallible identifies suspects before they have a chance to kill... Here’s an excerpt:

"With the aid of your precog mutants, you've boldly and successfully abolished the post-crime punitive system of jails and fines. As we all realize, punishment was never much of a deterrent, and could scarcely have afforded comfort to a victim already dead."

They had come to the descent lift. As it carried them swiftly downward, Anderton said: "You've probably grasped the basic legalistic drawback to precrime methodology. We’re taking in individuals who have broken no law.”

“But surely they will,” Witwer affirmed with conviction.

“Happily they don’t – because we get them first, before they can commit an act of violence. So the commission of the crime itself is absolute metaphysics. We claim they’re culpable. They, on the other hand, eternally claim they’re innocent. And, in a sense they are innocent… In our society we have no major crimes…but we do have a detention camp full of would-be criminals.”

So in this fictional- ahem- society no crime exists because as Anderton says “we get them first”. As people we have an aversion to certain emotions and feelings, when terrible things happen we tend to think and philosophise about how we can stop them happening again. To stop something happening before it happens. Sound familiar?

The raison d'etre of the Five Eyes surveillance apparatus is pre-crime. Stop the terrorists before they can attack. In this talk I aim to demonstrate how a variety of the surveillance programmes use Big Data methodologies and techniques to bring Phillip K. Dick's The Minority Report to life.