Minority Report Becomes Real

Prof Bill Buchanan OBE
5 min readAug 4, 2018

Minority Report — released in 2002 — predicted the future fairly well, with the usage of self driving cars, touch analytics, personalised ads, video controlled homes, facial/retina recognition, gesture based actions, … and “predictive policing”.

Within Minority Report, law enforcement used “precogs” in order to predict a crime before it happened, and then make an intervention to stop it. This pre-crime approach uses the past to predict future events, and thus identity risks. The machine operates a way that humans would assess rights, such as with one major red flag — such as where someone has just bought a firearm from an on-line site — or with many red flags — such as where someone has been continually posting angry messages about someone. As humans we continually make these judgements about others, and might often say that “we knew that he/she was going to do that from his actions before it”.

Now an Israeli/US company — BriefCam — have developed software which analyses video footage and then create key events, and where police can now take hundreds of CCTV video feeds and distil them down into key frames.

The increasing usage of predicted software in law enforcement worries many people, especially has it can result in false-positives. An example used by the Washington Times defines that:

“…officers raced to a recent 911 call about a man threatening his ex-girlfriend, a police operator in headquarters consulted software that scored the suspect’s potential for violence the way a bank might run a credit report.

The program scoured billions of data points, including arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, deep Web searches and the man’s social- media postings. It calculated his threat level as the highest of three color-coded scores: a bright red warning.

The man had a firearm conviction and gang associations, so out of caution police called a negotiator. The suspect surrendered, and police said the intelligence helped them make the right call — it turned out he had a gun.”

Prof Bill Buchanan OBE

Professor of Cryptography. Serial innovator. Believer in fairness, justice & freedom. Based in Edinburgh. Old World Breaker. New World Creator. Building trust.