In 2054, John Anderton looks up at a surveillance screen and sees the face of a murderer. He barks an order to secure the perimeter, and sends out a team to arrest the criminal.

But here’s the catch: the man hasn’t committed the crime yet.

Taking cues from the hit movie Minority Report, perhaps we aren’t too far from that kind of a reality. Countries around the world are already using predictive technology in government.

GovInsider pulled together four promising areas where predictive services are being built.

1. Healthcare


Predictive platforms are already used in healthcare, for vaccination notifications, forecasting hospital emergency admissions and food safety programmes.

Estonia is building services that will take care of newborn babies throughout their life. The vision is to build a “zero bureaucracy and invisible government”, said Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas. All parents will have to do is register their newborn through email. They will then be reminded through SMS to register their children for school and bring them for vaccinations.

Gold Coast Health in Australia uses an analytics tool to predict hospital emergency admissions with an accuracy up to 93%. Dr James Lind, director of access and patient flow at Gold Coast Health told The Guardian that there is a cost saving because staff rotas are more predictable and overtime payments have reduced. Hospitals do not have to worry about emergency accidents taking up extra wards.

In Chicago, the Department of Health worked with analytics teams to forecast violations across food stores. The system enabled food inspectors to prioritise establishments with a greater likelihood of violation. The forecast took into account complaints lodged, sanitation, safety and corporate law violations. These metrics are available on the city’s open data portal to promote collaboration with the public.

2. Business

aus cbd

Predictive policies can also help facilitate tax payments and manage the workforce.

For example, Singapore is building systems to tell citizens when they need to pay their taxes – without them logging into a service. Chan Cheow Hoe, Singapore government’s technology chief told GovInsider that he aims for a “post-app era”, where taxes can be paid through smartphone notifications. He is also exploring other areas, such as when an entrepreneur registers a business and needs prompting on licenses.

The city state is also developing an analytics tool to shape its public sector workforce. The system will be able to predict the type of skill sets public sector will need in the future. This will allow government to hire and train recruits strategically, and achieve more with the same or fewer resources. The cutting-edge tech will also help them identify which groups of people are likely to leave the public sector, why they leave, and why others are encouraged to stay.

And down under, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) trawls through millions of tax records, financial datasets and business reports to identify citizens committing fraud. But this isn’t entirely new: even in the 1930s, the ATO matched interest reports by banks against interest reports by individual tax returns. Computing has made this quicker and easier, however.

This last example is not perfect. The ATO had to make their officers manually review some tax discrepancy cases in 2012 for a year, and this proved that data-matching had not been accurate in identifying fraudulent tax claims.

3. Policing

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Policing is a third area of potential, and the U.S. seems to be the leader in this field.

Police departments across the country are trialling HunchLab, the latest iteration of predictive policing. It pulls together crime records across all agencies, matched with census data, locality details – even weather – and churns out likelihood of crime types across patrol areas. The data it gathers is uncanny: aggravated assaults in Chicago are lower on windy days, and cars in Philadelphia are stolen more often when parked near schools.

“Aggravated assaults in Chicago are lower on windy days”

According to Ars Technica, China, meanwhile, is building a “pre-crime” platform that brings together data from social media, bank accounts, telecommunications, jobs, consumption patterns and footage from surveillance cameras, to name a few. Once red flags are detected, authorities can clamp down on the suspect by freezing his bank account and accessing company communication logs. The anti-terrorism software will first be piloted in regions populated by ethnic minorities.

4. Leisure


Fourth, analytics can also be used to boost leisure industries – both in terms of government services, and support for the private sector.

Singapore is using data to understand tourism patterns. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) records the number of tourist arrivals, hotel bookings and spending across sectors such as transportation, food and entertainment. It also ranks visitor popularity across each country. These information is then pooled together for targeted marketing initiatives.

Elsewhere, Japan is building a cashless system to monitor tourist expenditure and improve its data gathering. Foreigners will be able to register their fingerprints when they enter the country. According to the Japan Times, the government hopes to boost tourism numbers by storing information on tourist movements and spending habits. The government plans to implement it by the 2020 Olympics.

Data can also improve delivery for citizens. A recent report by Singapore’s Civil Service College shows how the National Library Board is using data analytics to manage resources across 25 public libraries in the island state. The analytics team goes through location data, loan records and resident population to generate insights of users’ reading preferences. The board then predicts the type of books needed, buys the right quantity, and allocates it to each library according to demand.

The challenges

As governments get more advanced in data analytics, there have been concerns on privacy issues. Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing on the NSA raised global alarms on the extent of intrusion by government. The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer report surveying the public sector, businesses, media and NGOs across 25 countries consequently saw a 43% drop worldwide in trust toward government.

However, Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director of Singapore’s IDA believes there is a middle ground that can be reached. “Citizens will have a different approach to privacy if the way in which data is used is more transparent to them,” she recently said, pointing to government research surveys. “Citizens are actually quite willing to give up quite a bit of privacy”.

If more data collection results in healthier, safer and happier citizens, governments believe that less privacy is acceptable. The key is keeping them informed, and proving that their data improves service delivery.

This article is published as part of GovInsider’s predictive services week

See also: Singapore trialling AI to predict procurement fraud