Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Future Looks Grim for Professional Criminals

By CJ West
Suspense. Creativity. Action.

In the last few weeks I read Flash Foresight: How to see the invisible and do the impossible by Daniel Burrus. I highly recommend this book. It shows us how to spot trends in the marketplace and create a thriving business by preparing to meet needs consumers don’t even realize they have yet.

Today I thought it would be interesting to apply the concepts of this book to the life of a career criminal.

Burrus suggests that we look for hard trends that will impact the marketplace and then anticipate the problems and opportunities they will create.

One of the trends affecting everyone are the three “digital accelerators” according to Burrus. They are the vast increases in computer processing power, storage, and bandwidth we are experiencing each year. These three factors have contributed to the explosion of cameras and social media.

The last thing a criminal wants is his picture being taken and shared around a vast network of people trying to identify him. I explored this idea recently in Thugbook, a short story about a social network that shares photographs of crimes in progress. With the proliferation of smaller and smaller cameras and social networks it is only a matter of time before someone implements an idea that combines cameras and social media to help prevent crime.

If you are a criminal or your customers are criminals, it is time to be thinking about clever disguises or some other way to thwart all those cameras.

Another trend related to the digital accelerators is the shift to electronic banking. Fewer of us carry as much currency as we once did. We do carry credit and bank cards and those present opportunities, but banks are getting smarter about protecting themselves from losses.

We may see a future like the one depicted in The End of Marking Time where no currency is ever exchanged. This would make dealing drugs and fencing stolen goods very difficult, but the loss of freedom would be so great should the government try to do away with currency there would be a major backlash.

On the plus side for the criminally minded, there are new opportunities to steal electronic funds, though I wonder if the level of sophistication required to steal from banks will be so high in the future that it will be easier to make an honest living than to outsmart the electronic watchdogs.

One final note on the digital revolution and its impact on crime. In the past it was unlikely that  data obtained by a law enforcement agency in one state would ever be shared with another. In the future, biometrics will be more prevalent and it will be simpler to connect data sources together.

In a future where states share biometric and other data about offenders, it will be more difficult to evade capture by moving within the country.  The heads of any large criminal organization may want to consider small tropical islands or large tracts of heavily wooded land to hide out in.

These changes are suggested in fun, but you’ll be glad to know that based on the FBI data I’ve been reading, serious crime is decreasing. I don't think crime writers will run out of real life stories to feed our work, but the trend is certainly encouraging.

I’d highly recommend reading Flash Foresight and using the tools inside to find the trends in your business.


  1. What a thoughtful post! Keeping up with technology is critical in writing cutting edge crime fiction, and it goes ways, benefiting the good guys as well as the bad guys. I'm going now to check out Flash Foresight.

  2. Thanks LJ. It is a book worth studying!

  3. Knowing the trends can really be helpful if you're trying to write a story that will be considered contemporary.

    I recently read a very engaging book that was written before the HIPAA laws (medical personnel gave information to just about anyone) and before cell phones (people kept needing to find a phone). The story was strong, but I had to keep coming back to it when these details tossed me out.

    Excellent post, C.J.!

  4. It's important that we as authors keep current on the latest in technology--not an easy task these days, as things are changing at breakneck speed. But it is part of our job, as much as improving our writing skills and keeping industry knowledge up-to-date. All part of honing the craft, I suppose.


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