The murder and carnage in Newtown, CT has broken the hearts of an entire nation.
If there is an American adult who has not been moved by this brutal act of savagery, I would be amazed.
A tear, a lump in the throat, a kick in the gut --- these are all emotions I believe many of us have felt the last few days.
Let me start out by saying clearly and for the record -- I do not believe an act like this could have been prevented. I truly believe in my heart, that a mentally unstable person (or just evil person) who is hell bent on destruction, will find the means and path to acquire a weapon of some sort, with the intent to cause damage.
However, I would like to quickly share with you how I think future "Adam Lanzas" might be at best - provided the requisite level of mental healthcare and monitoring and at worst -- caught earlier before they wreck havoc on a school, a town, a state -- a nation --- and 28 families town apart by the bullets of a madman.
I said it.
I work in the field of data management. Namely, my company helps marketers and publishers understand all the anonymous online user data (and information) at their fingertips --- understand it, segment it -- and use in some manner it to drive a result.
The result could be to drive more sales of particular products or services.
Or, personalize an online experience for a consumer.
Or, a recommendation engine for a consumer.
Or, yield strong guesses around something called, predictive analysis.
Once again, I do not think anything could have been done to prevent Adam Lanza's murdering of an entire grade school classroom.
There were no outward signs, no criminal history (that has been released to date). He was home-schooled, and attended college earlier than many his age. (age 16)
But, he, like most of us displayed certain patterns. However, Lanza’s behavior most likely yielded some kind of "data exhaust" that might be IDENTIFIERS of his propensity towards "violence" “violent behavior” or at the least extremely, volatile behavior.
Data exhaust, (examples)could be:
a) public registration data
b) online browsing patterns, (types of web sites)
c) online chat rooms where comments were left that would indicate his short term or long term intentions (footprints)
d) videos watched and uploaded
There are many more "offline" components -- but these four ONLINE components are examples, are "breadcrumbs" that could be used to recognize patterns.
Not one of the anonymous components alone mean anything at all -- but when pieced together using logic, using technology -- and UNIFYING THEM -- WE BEGIN TO SEE A SEGMENT, A PROFILE.....
And, when you unify it together, you can glean and realize the profile of Adam Lanza. The profile, that when passed to the skilled mental health professional or trained law enforcement, could have resulted in something other than -- a nation in disbelief, at such an act of senseless violence, yet AGAIN.
Do the Columbine Killers, Virginia Tech murders, Aurora, Colorado murders, and the Sandy Hook mass murder display similar patterns? Did they emit similar "data exhaust characteristics?"
Could these behaviors, when pieced together -- could they possibly have rolled up into a taxonomy, that puts these people on the equivalent of a "do not fly list?"
Could this taxonomy of people (who are identified as higher likelihood to have violent tendencies) be used to "market to" (ie. target with messaging) about opportunities to get mental health, and how easy it is to receive help?
I don't know the answer, and neither do you; but that is the point, the technology to find out the answer already exists..
But, tackling the gun control problem might not be the only answer. We need to look at the entire mental health system, our enforcement of certain laws, and try to come up with ways to assist people in need, much more so than we do now. As a nation we need to demand that our elected officials appropriate adequate funds to public safety and that means, more than first responder overtime. Assigning hundreds of mental healthcare professionals to schools to help treat mental illness is not scalable. Technology may (a part) be a scalable way to address some of these issues that are woefully neglected.
Is there a possibility to leverage technology to:
a) respect user privacy
b) use technology to identify patterns of "highly violent" types of behaviors, and score them for mental health professional and/or law enforcement?
c) do so in a way that is highly confidential
Its been said that this is too much like "Big Brother." Too much invasion of privacy.
I disagree. I think it is for the "public good." I do think we are entering a different era in our relationship with our society, and each other -- and arguably we entered into that era, nearly 11 years ago.
Ask any of those parents from Newtown CT, or Aurora, CO if they would have welcomed some kind of "recommendation engine" that might have alerted mental health officials to the patterns of violence, from someone in their midst.
The data could be held private, but the use of it (data) may subject to action by a group mental health officials.
After 2001, we developed a whole department of our Federal Government, called "Homeland Security." It's mission was to make sure that technology, tools, and laws were in place, and actionable to prevent another 9-11.
Can we use the mass killings of our children, in their school and movie theaters to rise up -- and leverage data to build audiences of profiles prone to violent behavior. Yes, innovative technology and tools can be used in the context of protecting our youngest residents from all sorts of evils.
It's not illegal to be violent. It's illegal when violence crosses into murder.
So many people are willing to give up their "right to bear arms" -- an amendment placed second by our forefathers, in the order of importance of amendments......
Times were different then, than they are now.
Guns are more powerful.
So, are the problems that Government, and society faces.
Technology will help leverage the playing field by providing a highly skilled and trained army, by leveraging public information -- in the fight to protect our nation, and our children.
It's time BIG DATA is used to save lives, and not just be used by advertisers and publishers looking to "Activate" or "Drive a Result."
Make no mistake, DATA will not always identify people like Adam Lanza who have pure evil in their hearts. But, their actions (which can be identified and segmented) before a catastrophic event leave an important trail. Let's use it. (It is no surprise that he destroyed his computer hard drives, in an attempt to mask his behaviors)
Protect rights, while ensuring safety. It's needed now......
To protect our most important asset.