24 Nov 2022

Data, decisions and de-risking, people and technology in partnership.

Ben Hargreaves, security and policing consultant with BAE Systems explores the challenge of seeing beyond data to achieve insight and understanding at scale.

The knowledge versus data paradigm

There’s a well-used Sir Francis Bacon phrase:  ‘Knowledge itself is power’!  We may ask the question however, has knowledge been substituted for information and data? Has our quest for knowledge actually turned into a desire for more; more information, more sources of data? Can we discern one from the other? Does the accumulation of information equate to a position of accumulated knowledge? Is it the case that knowledge and understanding are different, something separate from data accumulation?

The public sector like other sectors accumulates vast quantities of information. It’s getting harder and harder to make sense of it though. To piece together the relevance of small pieces of information to build a bigger picture. This can lead to operating in that top layer of information, relying on flags and categorisation to make sense of it and only to delve deep, when you know what you are looking for.

An information triangle

To date, data management has followed a path. Taking policing as an example, there is emphasis on recording and retaining important information. It’s in the public interest to keep everything from sensitive personal information through to crime statistics. We could see this as the first side of an information triangle.  In terms of the second side of this triangle, there is data storage, manipulation and retrieval in increasing volumes. The third side to this triangle is the ‘knowledge layer’, or ‘understanding’. Whilst current technology addresses two sides, knowledge and understanding remain in the hands of human beings.

An alternative approach

At BAE Systems, we went directly to that knowledge layer. We held in our hands a technology solution, but then we stopped. Before a single line of code was written, we saw the single existential threat to this mission, a perceived crack in the ethics; a weakness in thinking or a loss of explain-ability.  Society has a primal sensitivity to any hint of AI or algorithm. In state hands, fear that human rights will be breached, privacy invaded is ubiquitous. Our approach? To consult widely and to build in ethical resilience. We wanted to elevate data and knowledge in an ethical way

The plight of the few

 Seeing the pressure of maintaining the knowledge layer in policing, placed in the hands of a dedicated few sparked the development of the Intelligence Lead Assessment Service (ILAS). A system capable of the unachievable? Replication of the work of a human analyst.

Claiming back the space for people

ILAS reasons across vast datasets, giving a view of risk, prioritised and presented as a narrative. Easy to work with, taking users straight to the priority issues.

At its heart, the knowledge domain. An organogram of the features and points of interest that analysts use. We focused on the domain of child exploitation, capturing the finest points of analyst experience or tradecraft. ILAS makes sense of the data. It automates a view of risk, drawing inference from multiple data points and providing hypotheses for human beings to work with, harmonising the relationship and supporting their decision making. This enables acquisition of knowledge not just more data.

The expectations of our future selves

Embracing information that keeps us safe is critical for the state, an essential component of modern living. We must have the confidence that the accumulation of personal data, builds knowledge that acts in our interests as citizens. We can all take a role in building the foundations of privacy, ethics and knowledge standards for our future selves.

Ben Hargreaves is a retired Detective Chief Superintendent, policing and security consultant in BAE Systems, Digital Intelligence, specialising in digital transformation.