Fighting Crime with Data: An Ethical Dilemma

Henry Rodrigues our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 11/15/2018 9:27 AM
Can you be guilty of a crime you’ve yet to commit? That’s the premise of Steven Spielberg’s 2002 sci-fi thriller ‘Minority Report’. But could it actually be closer to reality than you think.  

As technology has advanced, law enforcement has had to adapt. With criminals utilising increasingly sophisticated methods to achieve their goals, our police forces have had to continuously evolve their approach in order to keep up.  

New digital advances have refined crime-solving techniques to the point where they can even predict the likelihood of a specific crime occurring. But with our personal data at stake, where do we draw the line between privacy and public safety? 


Caught on Camera  


The digital transformation has led to many breakthroughs over the past few decades, originating with fingerprint analysis, through to the advanced Machine Learning models now used to tackle Fraud and analyse Credit Risk.  

With an estimated one camera per every 14 individuals in the UK, CCTV coverage is particularly dense. And, with the introduction of AI technologies, their use in solving crimes is likely to increase even further.  

IC Realtime’s Ella uses Computer Vision to analyse what is happening within a video. With the ability to recognise thousands of natural language queries, Ella can let users search footage for exactly what they’re after; from specific vehicles, to clothes of a certain colour. With only the quality of CCTV cameras holding it back, we’re likely to see technology like this become mainstream in the near future.  

Some more widespread technologies, however, are already playing their part in solving crimes. Detectives are currently seeking audio recordings from an Amazon Echo thought to be active during an alleged murder. However, as with previous requests for encrypted phone data, debate continues around what duty tech companies have to their customer’s privacy. 


Hotspots and Hunches


Whilst Big Data has been used to help solve crime for a while, we’ve only seen it begin to play a preventive role over the past few years. By using Predictive Analytics tools such as HunchLab to counter crime, law enforcement services can: 

  • Direct resources to crime hotspots where they are most needed. 
  • Produce statistical evidence that can be shared with local and national-level politicians to help inform and shape policy.  
  • Make informed requests for additional funding where necessary.  

Research has shown that, in the UK, these tools have been able to predict crime around ten times more accurately than the police.  

However, above and beyond the geographical and socioeconomic trends that define these predictions, advances in AI have progressed things even further.  

Often, after a mass shooting, it is found that the perpetrators had spoken about their planned attack on social media. The size of the social landscape is far too big for authorities to monitor everyone, and often just scanning for keywords can be misleading. However, IBM’s Watson can understand the sentiment of a post. This huge leap forward could be the answer to the sincere, and fair, policing of social media that we’ve yet to see.


Man vs Machine 


Whilst our social media posts may be in the public domain, the question remains about how much of our data are we willing to share in the name of public safety.  

There is no doubt that advances in technology have left us vulnerable to new types of crime, from major data breaches, to new ways of cheating the taxman. So, there is an argument to be had that we need to surrender some privacy in order to protect ourselves as well as others. But who do we trust with that data? 

Humans are all susceptible to bias and AI inherits the biases of its creators. Take a program like Boulder, a Santa-esque prototype that analyses the behaviour of people in banks, determining who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’. Whilst it can learn signs of what to look for, it’s also making decisions based around how it’s been taught ‘bad’ people might look or act. As such, is it any more trustworthy than an experienced security guard? 

If we ignore human bias, do we trust emotionless machines to make truly informed decisions? A study that applied Machine Learning to cases of bail found that the technology’s recommendations would have resulted in 50% less reoffenders than the original judges’ decisions. However, whilst the evidence suggests that this may be the way forward, it is unlikely that society will accept such an important, life-changing decision being made by a machine alone. 

There is no black and white when it comes to how we use data to prevent and solve crime. As a society, we are continuously pushing the boundaries and determining how much technology should impact the way we govern ourselves. If you can balance ethics with the evolution of technology, we may have a role for you.  

Take a look at our latest roles or contact one of our expert consultants to find out how we can help you. 

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2020: The Year of the Data Engineer

Data Engineers are the architects of Data. They lay the foundation businesses use to collect, gather, store, and make Data usable. Each iteration of the Data as it moves along the pipeline is cleaned and analysed to be used by Data professionals for their reports and Machine Learning models. A ROLE IN HIGH DEMAND Even as businesses reopen, reassess, and for some, remain remote, the demand for Data Engineers is high. Computer applications, Data modelling, prediction modelling, Machine Learning, and more need Data professionals to lay the groundwork to help businesses benefit in today’s Data-driven culture. The word gets thrown around a bit, but when the majority of business has moved online, Data-driven is the name of the game. Having a Data plan, a Data team, and all aligned with your business strategy is imperative to the way business is done today. This type of innovation can offer insight for better business decisions, enhance customer engagement, and improve customer retention without missing a beat.  Without Data Engineers, Data Scientists can’t do their jobs. Understanding the amount of Data, the speed at which is delivered, and its variety need Engineers to create reliable and efficient systems. Like many Data professional jobs, even still in 2020, Data Engineers are in high demand. Yet a skills shortage remains. This has created an emerging field of professionals from other backgrounds who are looking to take on the role of Data Engineer and fill the gap. Whether by necessity or design, these individuals build and manage pipelines, automate projects, and see their projects through to the end result. CAREER OPPORTUNITIES OUTSIDE THE NORM As this growing trend emerges, it has created career opportunities for those with experience outside the normal channels of Data Engineering study. While it might involve individuals from backgrounds such as software Engineering, Databases, or something similarly IT-related, some businesses are upskilling their employees with talent. Rapid growth, reskilling, upskilling, and ever-constant changes still leave businesses with a shortage of Data Engineers to meet the demand. It’s critical to fill the gap for success. According to LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report, Data Engineering is listed in the top 10 of jobs experiencing growth. THREE STEPS TOWARDS BECOMING A DATA ENGINEER This is a vital role in today’s organisations. So, if you’re in the tech industry and want to take a deeper dive into Data as a Data Engineer, what steps can you take? This is a time like no other. There’s time to assess your goals, take online classes, and get hands on with projects. Though having a base of computer science, mathematics, or business-related degree is always a good start. Be well-versed in such popular programming languages such as SQL, Python, R, Hadoop, Spark, and Amazon Web Services (AWS).Prepare for an entry-level role once you have your bachelor’s degree.Consider additional education to stay ahead of the curve. This can include not only professional certifications, but higher education degrees as well. The more experience, hands-on as well as academic, you have the more in demand you’ll be as a Data Engineer. Data scientists might be the rockstars of Data, but Data Engineers set the stage. As business processes have shifted online, looking for your next job has become more daunting than ever before. If you’re looking for your next opportunity in Data, take a look at our current jobs or get in touch with one of our expert consultants to find out more. 

WE HAVE TO TEACH SPECIALISATION, WE CAN’T EXPECT IT: A Q&A WITH VIN VASHISHTA

We recently spoke to Vin Vashishta, a consulting Data Scientist and Strategist who was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Data Science.  Having started off in the tech world 25 years ago and progressing from web design and hardware installation to Business Intelligence Analytics, Vin found for many years that enterprises were reluctant to adopt AI technologies and embrace the value of Data. In fact, it wasn’t until the beginning of the decade just passed that companies started to think about their Data more strategically and the world of Data Science was born, albeit hesitantly:  “When I first started, it was a lot of experimentation, everyone wanted a proof of concept,” he says. “A lot of work was creating models that could go from whiteboard to production and productise and show their value.” However, it wasn’t until halfway through the decade that he began to see businesses who had adopted Machine Learning move away from experimentation into incorporating it more deeply into their companies, relying more on analytical and optimisation models to make strategic business decisions.  “After that, in about 2017/2018 the maturity changed. It went from being a one off implementation to it being a comprehensive tool within an organisation where we have full lifecycles of model implementation and full models that were full views of the system. The key component of development was allowing users to access a small part of the system to do their job better without having to understand the whole thing. And that’s where we are now. We have this applied Deep Learning and we are seeing, especially this year, attempts to optimise that, make things go faster and make them more repeatable.” But, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility: “There’s this whole depth we are getting into, the expectations are so much higher, people don’t just expect it to work they expect it to work the way they want it to and in a way they can adopt.” So, with so much expected and required of Data Scientists in 2020, building the right team is more important than ever. However, many businesses, Vin believes, are yet to get their hiring processes right: “A lot of the measures that we use to sort of evaluate employees are fictional – when you say years of experience, it has no correlation to employee outcomes or the quality of employee you get long term. It’s the same thing as college degree, there’s no correlation.” So when Vin is trying to build a highly specialised team, what does he do? “We have to teach specialisation, we can’t expect it. We can’t bring someone in and call them a Data Scientist and hope that they train up. You end up with teams that are exactly the same because they have hired the same people, people who reinforce the bias of what they do, and that is where true leadership needs to come in.” A specialised team made up of individuals who bring their own ideas to the table is more important than ever, particularly as businesses demand more from their Data teams. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all models. Businesses now want something tailored to them: “Custom models are huge. The “import from…” Machine Learning development from three years ago adds value when it comes to wrangling and doing the Analysis, but when it comes to creating models companies are now expecting it to become a competitive advantage. Companies no longer want the same model that everyone else has, now it has to be differentiating.” These smart, customised models, he adds, will help businesses through the current pandemic. “The best models right now are adapting rather than reacting.”  However, he’s sceptical about the Data Science community becoming too preachy:  “When it comes to COVID-19 one message I want to send to the Machine Learning and Deep Learning community is ‘shut up’. We don’t have the Data! We have so many Data Scientists talking about something that’s very important to get right. If you get it wrong the consequences and the credibility we will lose as a field is enormous.” Indeed, discussions about the lack of quality Data on COVID-19 are widespread at the moment and raise concerns for Vin: “What the last two and a half months has revealed is the danger of bad Data, the danger of assumptions that are hidden in Data that hasn’t been looked over well or wasn’t gathered well and was fed into these models that now aren’t robust. Of course, no model can account for something this drastic, but they should still be performing far better than they are right now.” Despite these concerns, Vin believes any change in the world brings about opportunities for those in the Data and technology space. “What I’ve been trying to do ever since I joined the technology space is figure it out. It’s constantly evolving and it’s constantly changing. That’s really what has driven my journey. I’m always trying to figure out ‘what’s next’ over the next five years, ten years whatever it may be.” If you’re looking for your next Data Science, Machine Learning or Deep Learning role, or want to build out your own highly-specialised team, we may be able to help.  Take a look at our latest opportunities or get in touch with one of our expert consultants to find out more.   

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