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Predictive policing uses algorithms to analyse data and cut crime. But does it really work, and should it be trusted?

Sidney Perkowitz is professor of physics emeritus at Emory University in Atlanta. His latest books are Universal Foam 2.0 (2015) and Frankenstein 2018(in progress). 

In an age of anxiety, the words sound so reassuring: predictive policing. The first half promises an awareness of events that have not yet occurred. The second half clarifies that the future in question will be one of safety and security. Together, they perfectly match the current obsession with big data and the mathematical prediction of human actions. They also address the current obsession with crime in the Western world – especially in the United States, where this year’s presidential campaign has whipsawed between calls for law and order and cries that black lives matter. A system that effectively anticipated future…

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