We’ve talked a lot over the years about the attempts to get out “ahead of crime” by using computer programs and algorithms to try and predict who might commit a crime. Predictive computing can then either target specific areas or specific people that might be in need of some extra law enforcement attention. Except as we’ve noted repeatedly, these programs are only as valuable as the data they use. Garbage in, garbage out, but in this case you’ve got a human being on the other end of the equation whose life can be dramatically impacted by law enforcement holding what they believe is “proof” that you’ll soon be up to no good.
With that in mind there’s growing concerns about efforts in Chicago to use predictive analytical systems to generate a “heat list” — or a list of 400 or so individuals most likely to be involved in violent crime. The Chicago efforts are based on a Yale sociologist’s studies and use an algorithm created by an engineer at the Illinois Institute of Technology. People who find themselves on the list get personal visits from law enforcement warning them that they better be nice. The result is a collision between law enforcement that believes in the righteousness of these efforts and those who worry that they could, as an EFF rep states, create “an environment where police can show up at anyone’s door at any time for any reason.”