Digital Detectives

What if Sherlock Holmes was actually a computer? Well, according to professors at Tel Aviv University, new digital algorithms can solve cases just like the legendary fictional sleuth.

As a digitally driven society, we live not only in the physical but the digital. Everything we do leaves a trace online through our computer output, smartphones and even magnetic debit/credit cards. Every digital breadcrumb left behind on a daily online trail provides investigators the opportunity to track down anyone – particularly criminals.

A team of three professors at Tel Aviv University, Prof. Irad Ben-Gal, Dr. Eugene Kagan and Ph.D. student Aviv Gruber of the Department of Industrial Engineering are using these digital breadcrumbs to their advantage and catching criminals in the act thanks to high-powered context-based search algorithms. These “numbers” have the ability to instantly process new pieces of information, moving at lightning speeds adding another element to crime stopping.

It’s all a numbers game. "If the object is moving, modeling and eventually catching it is mathematically complex," said Prof. Ben-Gal.

The algorithms work like digital detectives attempting to piece together puzzles by tracking phone calls, credit card transactions and analyzing a person’s digital movement. The algorithm communication tracks crime in real-time depending on how much digital data is provided for the algorithms to work with. Once a pattern is detected, the algorithms use statistical probability to map out possible locations for suspected criminals based on previous digital trails. The algorithms specialize in tracking moving files – hence, the real-time capabilities. Based on activity, the algorithm predicts future crimes based on all digital movement and classifies the person into a criminal-specific category (i.e. terrorist organization, drug dealing ring, etc) instantly.

Apparently, Amazon has been using similar technology for online users – not to track criminals, but to gather preference data. Whenever buyers purchase particular items, the digital algorithms store purchasing information; directing recommendations in the same genre. This is why adds for the book “Computers for Dummies” pops up when searching for computer software on the site.

This highly advanced level of online security can only help future investigations and as consumer groups like Amazon continue to develop online security capabilities, these “numbers” can create a new level of integrated communication by targeting individual consumers anywhere there’s Internet.

Posted by Christina Miralla on Oct 19, 2011

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