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Researchers use cell-phone data, not precogs, to predict crime in London

Timothy J. Seppala, @timseppala
September 18, 2014
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Just this year we've seen open data give rise to recreations of Denmark in Minecraft, the ability to compare cities at the same scale and also collections of geo-mapped tweets and traffic lights. But what about a practical application for all of that info, one that has a more tangible benefit to society, like, say, crime prediction? That's what the University of Trento in Italy had in mind with its "Once Upon a Crime" study. The researchers coupled freely available (and anonymous, aggregated) demographic and mobile phone data with real crime data to forecast where in London an infraction might occur. Just how accurate was it? The Italian scientists say that their predictive algorithm was on-point, accurately anticipating whether an area would have either high or low levels of vice, 70 percent of the time. No, it's not quite enough to let Chief Anderton and co. start running wild just yet, but it could be a way to help cities struggling with budget woes decide what areas need more (or fewer) police patrols.

[Image credit: Getty Images]

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