Five ways government is using big data to make your life better

How to predict crime, hospital visits and car crashes before they happen

By 2010, the world was producing as much data every two days as it had done between the start of civilization and 2003, while 90% of all data has been created within the past two years.

This exponential growth in information is transforming what governments can do for the people they represent. Authorities are now predicting accidents before they happen, seeing where criminals will strike before they do, and consigning lengthy form-filling to the past.

At Apolitical, we have identified the five most significant ways that information sharing and predictive analytics are transforming government services around the world:

1. Bridging political divides

Taiwan is using social media to crowd-source legislation, breaking a six-year political deadlock on online alcohol sales in the process.

The system, known as vTaiwan, finds areas of public agreement and frames legislation around them. The public is invited to post principles that should underpin legislation into discussion threads distributed via Facebook. Unlike conventional forums, users rate others’ suggestions rather than commenting on them. Responses are then clustered, showing statements that cut across political divides.

After further consultation and review by experts, the government either implements a bill based on the responses or explains why it is not doing so.

2. Predicting crime before it happens

By linking buildings with types of crime, police can see where the next robbery, assault, arson or stabbing is likely to occur before it happens.

The method, known as Risk-Terrain Modelling, establishes correlations between types of crime and particular buildings. All addresses of potentially ‘risky’ buildings are logged on a digital map, which is overlaid with the locations of past crimes. Buildings are ranked according to the number of incidents that have occurred close by, revealing combinations of structures that pose the greatest risk. Areas where these combinations occur are flagged to police, letting them focus on small areas likely to attract large volumes of crime.

Where it was implemented, gun crime dropped by 35% in Newark; Colorado Springs cut vehicle theft by 33% and Glendale, Arizona, reduced robberies by more than 40%.

Developed by Professors at Rutgers University, the system is currently being used in more than 30 countries and over 30 US states.

3. No more filling out forms

In Estonia, citizens can complete their taxes in just five minutes or incorporate a business in less than 20, and are never asked to submit the same information to the government twice. This is thanks to the country’s data exchange network, X-Road, which saves more than 240 hours of work every three minutes by automatically transferring information between government agencies.

X-Road lets approved databases request and share information without human commands. The process allows data to be automatically retrieved and made available to officials as it is needed for specific tasks, without them having to make any manual request.

The technology underpinning the X-Road system is open source and Estonia is already helping one other country, Finland, adopt it.

4. Hospitals could predict A&E arrivals ten years in advance

As hospital waiting times continue to lengthen, Australia might just have the answer: earmark beds for patients before they even walk into A&E. Across Queensland, hospitals are using a tool that tells hospitals how many patients will arrive and what injures they will have, hours, days, weeks, months or years in advance.

The tool identifies subtle patterns in historical admission and discharge data, allowing hospitals to anticipate injuries long before they happen. This lets hospital staff set aside beds for patients with broken-legs, alcohol poisoning, pneumonia and other injuries when planning surgeries, preventing last minute cancellations or lengthy patient waits. Alternatively, staff can predict arrivals by hour, letting them know how many beds are required at any given moment.

In use in around 50 hospitals across Queensland, the tool is saving money and lives. The state’s hospitals are saving up to $2.5 million (USD) each year while the value to the state from improved patient outcomes could be as high as $77.5 million. Waiting times have also fallen, in one case by as much as 20%.

5. Predicting car crashes before they happen

If you prang your car in the coming years, you might find that the emergency services set off before you have even dented your fender.

A new crash prediction system, set to be trialled by Las Vegas, uses artificial intelligence to identify correlations between the time and locations of previous car accidents with factors such as weather, traffic flow, construction sites and road hazards. Developed and tested in Israel, the technology predicted accidents and jams with up to 70% accuracy, and provided warnings of likely collisions up to two hours in advance.

As well as telling officials when accidents will happen, the system may also be able to show them the best way to prevent them. This could involve altering road signals, sending out patrol vehicles or even preparing emergency services.

(Picture credit: Alexander)


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