Piracy is a serious problem on the world’s seas.
A U.S. consultancy called Oceans Beyond Piracy estimates that pirates caused $7 billion of damage in 2011.
The good news is that, thanks to technological advances, the problem is getting solved.
The International Maritime Bureau reported a 54% drop in piracy incidents during the first half of 2012 versus the same timeframe in 2011.
The reason: Government agencies and law enforcement entities have started harnessing big data to prevent piracy before it happens.
“Big data” is a a buzzy tech term that addresses the nearly boundless amounts of information generated every day on a given topic and how computers process it. Remember Watson, IBM’s Jeopardy genius? It’s a totally similar idea–a computer is fed more information than a person could ever handle, then processes and makes sense of it.
There is a nearly unmanageable amount of data collected as it relates to piracy on the seas. News stories about piracy incidents, interviews with captured pirates, social media posts and emails from pirates, and the like.
These all come from a variety of sources that authorities are now pulling together and processing with computers to learn how to better stop pirates.
With enough information to pull from, a computer can find patterns or trends that would normally evade humans. And when you find a pattern, you can have a good idea when or where something will happen before it actually happens.
A company called Esri runs advanced mapping software that pulls in nuggets of information to help visually point out when and where incidents of piracy are likely to occur in the future.
Authorities are now able to turn an incomprehensible mass of information that no one would be able to sift through or organize, and forecast where they need to be to keep the seas safe.
It is, as Harvard Business Review puts it, a “genuine predictive model.”
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