The 1993 film Demolition Man showed us a future in which the police force could predict the movements of citizens with alarming accuracy. When the film was made, the idea that such a state of affairs would ever come to pass in our lifetime was impossible to conceive. The film was set in 2032, suggesting that the filmmakers thought 39 years of technological progress might well be enough to be realistic.
It’s starting to look like they seriously underestimated the progress that the technology world would make.
Here we are, 25 years after the film was released, and Big Data is a reality. There's been so much growth in data creation in the last few years. In the last 3 years alone, mankind created more data than it did from the dawn of time through to 2009. Just like the plot of Demolition Man seemed to us in 1993, it’s unfathomable.
The surge in handheld and portable computing has combined with the proliferation of social media to give 99% of people from technologically advanced countries a ‘digital footprint’. Technology systems have been put in place by businesses worldwide to qualify and quantify what people are doing, buying, watching, hearing... and these patterns are showing that humans are predictable.
Predictable to the extent that some police departments are already able to use big data to predict that a crime will occur in a certain location at a certain time with an alarming level of accuracy. Don’t ask me how they’re doing it – they just are. The potential ramifications of this are fascinating; will the process continue to evolve to the point that we will be able to predict not just when and where the crime will happen but also who will be the criminal and the victim? If that thought doesn’t worry you a little, perhaps you should go and watch Minority Report or read Orwell’s 1984. Just be aware that, if you do, a big data specialist somewhere will know about it...