Did you ever watch the Tom Cruise movie ‘Minority Report’ based on a short story by the excellent science fiction writer Philip K Dick? The idea is that in the year 2054 hidden away in a deep dark jacuzzi is a trio of mental whizz brains who can predict a crime before it happens and direct police, in this case the pocket dynamite Tom Cruise, to the scene of the crime before it even happens.
I particularly loved the police planning data screen holographically suspended in front of the officers and the highly polished wooden balls which rolled down a moustrap-like slope to identify victim and potential perpetrator. All good sci-fi flim-flam and ultimately unbelievable but entertaining stuff for geeks like me. That is until now…
New Scientist reports that police in the UK want to predict serious violent crime using artificial intelligence, New Scientist can reveal. The idea is that individuals flagged by the system will be offered interventions, such as counselling, to avert potential criminal behaviour.
However, one of the world’s leading data science institutes has expressed serious concerns about the project after seeing a redacted version of the proposals. The system, called the National Data Analytics Solution (NDAS), uses a combination of AI and statistics to try to assess the risk of someone committing or becoming a victim of gun or knife crime, as well as the likelihood of someone falling victim to modern slavery.
New Scientist has seen a report from a team at the Alan Turing Institute in London. In it, the team says there are “serious ethical issues” with NDAS and questions whether it is in the public good to intervene pre-emptively when an individual may not have committed a crime or be likely to do so in the future. The researchers say that although the proposal is ethically well-intentioned overall, it fails to recognise important issues in full, and that inaccurate prediction is a concern.
A “Minority Report” in real life is a legislative procedure whereby a minority of a committee (usually members from the minority party) offer an official alternative to a piece of legislation. Because of the way rules of decorum work out, minority reports are very rarely successful (as in this film). Those of you who are movie buffs will remember the concept in World War Z where Jurgen Warmbrunn, the Israeli politician claims to act as a minority advocate thinking the unthinkable.
In the film, at the police station, the officers talk about the metaphysical proof of precognition. Chief Anderton (Tom Cruise) rolls a red ball along a table to demonstrate the law of cause and effect to Detective Witwer (Colin Farrell). All of this is an allusion to the famous claim of philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), that by observing billiard balls you can actually demonstrate that cause and effect does not exist but is merely a habitually created fiction of the mind. Huh??
The film was intensely researched before production. A full three years before production began, Steven Spielberg assembled a team of sixteen future experts in Santa Monica to brainstorm out the year 2054 for him.