Sign In

Communications of the ACM

ACM TechNews

Computing Crime and Punishment

View as: Print Mobile App Share:
A page from the trial data for James Boobier, 65, who was convicted in 1871 of passing counterfeit coins and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

A computational analysis of London's historical court records demonstrates how the British justice system created new practices for controlling violence.

Credit: Tim Hitchcock/The National Archive

Scientists and historians have performed a computational analysis of historical court records in London to show how the British justice system created new practices for controlling violence.

At London's Central Criminal Court, known as the Old Bailey, court reporters recorded nearly every trial that took place between 1674 and 1913, generating the world's most detailed recording of real speech in printed form. The study, which brought together experts from Indiana University, the Santa Fe Institute, and the University of Sussex, demonstrates "an important new way to do historical research," says National Endowment for the Humanities director of digital humanities Brett Bobley, noting computers can parse huge collections that historians cannot.

Computers allow words to be represented as mathematical objects and put through algorithms that detect patterns that a person could not. The scientists sought patterns by studying when and how often certain words occurred. The researchers used the 1911 edition of Roget's Thesaurus, which sorts 26,000 distinct English words into 1,040 numbered categories called synonym sets. Thus for every word, the team had a number that corresponds to a meaning that can be modeled mathematically.

One important finding is the gradual differentiation in violent and nonviolent crimes.

From The New York Times
View Full Article - May Require Free Registration


Abstracts Copyright © 2014 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


No entries found

Sign In for Full Access
» Forgot Password? » Create an ACM Web Account