Big Data Identifies Soldiers At Risk Of Committing Violent Crimes

Posted: Oct 6 2015, 9:24pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News


Big Data Identifies Soldiers at Risk Committing Violent Crimes
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Harvard Medical School released the results of a new study that will raise a controversial discussion about big data used to identify future criminals. Is Minority Report already a reality?

Tom Cruise hunts down criminals in the 2002 movie Minority Report before they commit a crime. In the movie based on legendary science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, the police uses a psychic technology that foresees who will commit a crime. The Harvard Medical School announced the results of a study, suggesting that scientists can do that today using Big Data and machine learning. 

The US Department of Defense funded research aimed to identify soldiers at high risk for perpetrating severe violent crimes. The project used to build a machine learning model based on administrative data available for all 975,057 Regular U.S. Army soldiers on active duty from 2004 to 2009.

The system works surprisingly well. The 5% of soldiers classified by the final model as having the highest predicted risk accounted for 36.2% of all major physical violent crimes committed by men and 33.1% by women over the 6 years of study.

When the machine learning model was fed with more recent data from 2011 to 2013, the 5% of soldiers with highest predicted risk sky rocket to 50.5% of all major physical violent crimes. The results of the study have been published in the Journal Psychological Medicine.

"These numbers are striking," said Ronald Kessler, the McNeil Family Professor of Health Care Policy at HMS and principal investigator on the project. "They show us that predictive analytic models can pinpoint the soldiers at highest violence risk for preventive interventions. Targeting such interventions might be the best way to bring down the violent crime rate in the Army."

So what is a preventive intervention? A guy like Tom Cruise portrays in Minority Report coming after the soldiers that have been identified by big data to be at high risk to commit a violent crime? 
The announcement of the study contains a voice of reason in the form of John Monahan, the John S. Shannon Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law, another study author. He says: "It is important to recognize that severe violent crimes are uncommon even in this high-risk group. This means that implementing intensive high-risk preventive interventions would make sense only if the interventions are shown to be highly efficient--something that has not yet been demonstrated."
Another worrisome aspect of this study is that the data used is of administrative nature. This data appears to be less rich than Facebook profiles. If the machine learning model can already work that well on that thin data it could likely make a much better prediction using Facebook data. This research is already government funded. The NSA is even more data on people than Facebook has. Minority Report is set in 2054. Philip K. Dick was too conservative. We already arrived at this dystopian future in 2015.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/2" rel="author">Luigi Lugmayr</a>
Luigi Lugmayr () is the founding chief Editor of I4U News and brings over 15 years experience in the technology field to the ever evolving and exciting world of gadgets. He started I4U News back in 2000 and evolved it into vibrant technology magazine.
Luigi can be contacted directly at




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