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Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Data Detective - The Serial Killer Detector

Here is a story about the power of data, which does not contain a single reference to Big Data, analytics, deep learning, AI or any other of the jargons that are thrown around these days. However, it does use the word algorithms!

The New York Times has published this fascinating article about homicide archivist (not detective), Thomas Hargrove. Hargrove, a programmer, has created an algorithm that sifts through the vast data record of 751,785 murder cases in America, looking for patterns related by time, place, type of murder and victim - to identify uncaught serial killers, many of whom are still on the rampage, unknown to the Police Department.

A modern day Sherlock Holmes would work like this. Because the clues are much more tantalising and subtle than the ones on the scene of the crime. It is another level of cracking a murder mystery. 

As researchers, we have always understood the power of data to give insight, to answer questions, to solve mysteries. Today, as the volume of data has grown, we need more sophisticated tools to mine it. But the end goal always remains the same - to find answers, sometimes answers to questions that no one has asked.

The data always has the answers. They are waiting there, for you to find them. The data is the real hero, not the enemy, piling up, scaring you and waiting to be mined by a multi-million dollar solution.

Being a researcher (or an analyst) is always being a detective. You may not be solving anything as meaningful as a murder case, but your job is to shed light. And that's always a good space to be in.