Predictive forensics is a mode of investigation concerned with evidence of an event that has not yet taken place. The trace is still in the future and the future is the product of computational models.
Predictive forensics is employed in the context of two seemingly unrelated fields: environmental science, which employs sophisticated models to map the risks associated with planetary-scale climate change, and security analysis, concerned with predicting the risks encountered in the “global war on terror.”
A climate model is a mathematical construction conceived to predict probable future scenarios based on past data, but it is also an image, a visual representation in a time-based cartography drawn on various scales. While a photograph documents events in the past, the model produces image representations of possible futures; however, in an analogous manner to a photograph, the model has a resolution, created by the distribution of climate data sensors placed across the surface of the Earth, in oceans, and in the different layers of the atmosphere. Because the sensors are not evenly spaced apart, the model has variable resolutions across its extent.
The Problem with Holes
The hole in the ozone layer generated by CFC emissions was discovered and negated in close succession in the second half of the 1980s. “Climate change skeptics” claimed that the sequence of operations that had “con- firmed” its existence—involving sensing, processing, and modeling—was prone to error and manipulation and the image created was but one possible scenario amongst others.
Representing ozone levels only during spring in the southern hemisphere was the only way of illustrating the steady decrease in the ozone levels in a stratospheric area as large as north America. But this seasonal phenomenon need not necessarily have been described as a “hole.” The hole was constructed both as a concept and as an image in order to call for action. It was, as Seth Denizen describes it, “a masterstroke of forensic aesthetics.” Meteorologist Jonathan Shanklin, who in 1985 codiscovered the seasonal thinning in the ozone layer over Antarctica, was aware of the power of the “hole” metaphor, commenting: “[T]hat was a really good thing to call it because an ozone hole must be bad. Almost automatically, it meant that people wanted something to be done about it. The hole had to be filled in.”
One of the prevalent modes of contemporary security management involves “pre-emptive targeted assassinations”—most often by missiles fired from drones. In these operations people are killed not for crimes they have committed in the past but rather for the attacks they will have committed in the future.
What trace does violence that has not yet happened leave in advance? The “futurology” of contemporary warfare looks for such traces in the analysis of patterns of behavior and movement in space. These are calculations not unlike the technical analysis of stock prices, which attempts to predict the future on the basis of past behavior. The contemporary battlefield has thus become a field of calculations.