The intellectual food fest that is Chicago Ideas Week continues unabated with a dozen or more pretty meaty and provocative gatherings each day. It can leave one's head spinning.
You can go from the future of media, cities and our coming water crisis to a debate on whether we should ration end of life health care. Then there are "labs" on building robots, luring opera audiences, innovation in the gaming industry, preparing seafood and maximizing transparency in an online world.
There are lots of young folks making and listening to presentations and scads of emerging high-tech entrepreneurs. There's a reassuring air of vitality coursing many of the sessions and the hallways discussions after each gathering.
A criminal justice session caught my attention as much as any so far, with journalist Ray Bonner setting the stage (on a stage) at the Goodman Theatre by noting our nation's depressing incarceration rate: 730 per 100,000 citizens, highest in the world and even topping the likes of Russia and Cubs. The youth incarceration rate is especially dismal, at 336 per 100,000 citizens, leaving all nations in the dust.
He then introduced Richard Berk, a criminologist at the University of Pennsylvania who applies sophisticated statistical models to discern how to best forecast criminal behavior.
So remember Tom Cruise in "Minority Report" (2002)? The flick is set in 2054 Washington, D.C., which has eliminated most crime due to some brainy folks called "Pre-Cogs" who can look into the future and predict crimes before they take place. Pretty handy.
Well, said Berk, a very respected fellow, we're well on our way there. That sounded a bit hyperbolic, at least until he started rattling off the many ways in which we already attempt to predict criminal behavior. such as in sentencing, parole board and other decisions. We're "lousy" at it, he said, but we do try.
We try to forecast the possibility somebody will commit a homicide while out on parole. We try, too, when we consider bail recommendations and prison housing decisions (the guys likely to be badasses are dispatched to the most onerous cells).
Now, he said, consider the increasing use of GPS, closed circuit television and other technologies when it comes to both tracking any or all of us and also discerning patterns of behavior. Computer chips embedded in a parolee's electronic ankle bracelet can be read by a hidden video camera on a building.
It's all part and parcel of an extensive attempt to do what Cruise's character was doing, especially after he learned that a Pre-Cog was predicting that the character would murder someone soon. Scads of social science research and demographic data come into play as we make sense of distinct patterns of behavior.
Berk's prediction for what's up ahead: "We won't be as effective as Tom Cruise but with each passing year, we're getting closer."
He was followed by Shawn Henry, a former FBI cyber crime chief; Eva Paterson, San Francisco-based founder of the Equal Justice Society; and Kamala Harris, the attorney general of California. They were all very engaging, though unavoidably one was most drawn to Henry's tales of online skullduggery and the success of bad guys in undermining our world's critical technological infrastructures.
In some cases he recounted, companies had no idea that their seemingly safe intellectual property, research and development, phone conversations and employee information had already been stolen many months earlier. There are organized crime groups on what amount to electronic jihads and we best figure out ways to protect our networks.
Bring on the Pre-Cogs.