Pre-Cog Algorithms To Stop Mass Killing?

Pre-Cog Algorithms To Stop Mass Killing?


Leonard Zwelling

In The Wall Street Journal on May 28, Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. suggests the use of complex algorithms to fish in the waters of the web to identify prospective mass murderers before they commit any crimes. This harkens back to the idea in Minority Report, a Stephen Spielberg-Tom Cruise cinema vehicle of 2002 based on a Philip K. Dick short story in which special sensing “pre-cogs” can detect a crime being planned or about to occur before it actually happens thus allowing authorities to prevent malevolent activity. This is one solution to the latest round of mass shooting that occurred in Uvalde, Texas. Given enough computer power and systems to monitor everything on the web, we can detect threats on social media before they are made real and thus head off tragedy. Of course, this assumes that every mentally ill criminal will blog about his plans before committing a crime which is a pretty big assumption. It also presumes algorithms can be written to detect all of this activity and sort out the delusional threats from the actual pre-crime. I am not sure this is the answer to the current wave of mass violence.

There is simply no way to be sure the police will be able to use artificial intelligence to root out all potential school shooters by constant surveillance of the world wide web. There are some other things we can do.

We can fund more research into the origins of gun violence. What really causes these events to occur and why so much more frequently in the United States than elsewhere?

We can study how Australia and New Zealand responded to their own mass shootings by imposing strict new gun laws that seem to have worked.

We can educate gun owners about trigger locks and proper gun storage and try to prevent the accidental shootings that probably outnumber those occurring in mass incidents.

We can ban the ownership of all semi-automatic and automatic weapons by civilians. They simply are not needed. These are weapons of war and should only be in the hands of the military and the police.

We can expand background checks to include all gun sales without exception and improve the data bases against which these checks are made.

We can outlaw the sale of all conversion kits meant to increase the rapidity with which bullets can be discharged from an otherwise safer weapon.

Finally, we can mandate the acquisition of a state-issued license to own a gun and make sure that this license cannot be issued to anyone under 25.

If Mr. Jenkins wishes to use the power of computers to head off mass shootings, I’m all for that. In the meantime, let’s do some simple things that will make gun ownership safer.

The crux of the Republican message right now is ever-expanding freedom with ever-declining responsibility. Think January 6. That simply will not work. We all must be responsible for the freedoms we have or someone else’s freedom will be taken—let alone someone else’s life.

2 thoughts on “Pre-Cog Algorithms To Stop Mass Killing?”

  1. All of your suggestions are spot on! We are in England now where no one can understand why America still allows the civilian possession of assault rifles and pistols. No other civilized country does. But, then again, maybe American is no longer civilized. That’s the conclusion of many Brits.

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