Big Data Will Protect Megacities

This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)

Urban living is soon to become the dominant form of human habitation. In 2014, more than half the global population resided in cities. It’s expected that in 2017, this will be true of even less developed countries. As populations relocate to dense urban population centres, the cities themselves are growing, giving rise to megacities that are set to dominate the landscape in many countries.

Dense populations present an attractive target for terrorist and belligerent actors, while the depletion of rural populations combined with advances in sensing and weapons systems mean that hiding in remote areas is becoming increasingly unattractive for hostile elements. For the unsavoury elements of society, the impenetrable clutter of the modern city is an attractive and alluring prospect. This is doubly true of the megacities of the future, and the “mega-regions” that develop when cities grow and fuse to create population centres stretching over hundreds of kilometres and housing scores of millions of people.

Fortunately, this shouldn’t spell doom to the prospects of safety and security. Enormous amounts of data are already available, from a myriad of cameras, listening devices, sensors deployed in cities around the globe. What is needed is a fundamental shift in the approach to understanding the environment. Security forces of today must generate a holistic approach that utilises all this information with the aid of Big Data analytics.


Census data and mapping have for centuries provided invaluable information on the make-up of a city, however the up-to-now unavoidable delays in data gathering, analysis, and application have presented challenges to timely response to evolving threats. Sampling has been the basis of traditional methods of data collection and analysis, but while it has been useful, it is not lacking in shortcomings. With sampling rates of n=’some hundreds’ the extrapolated informations lacks depth and accuracy. Big Data allows analysts to tackle issues with sampling rates of n=’all,’ allowing for a deeper, more accurate, and granular approach to understanding populations.

What’s more, up-to-date data obtained from a multitude of source (credit card transactions, mobile phone data, etc.) assure that the picture derived from it is far more accurate and true to reality than that from self-reported data. Most of this doesn’t require additional investment, as the data is a “byproduct” of normal operations for cities and companies. The treasure trove of information is lying disused, and utilising it should require little additional cost, while the benefits are great.

The amount of available data is growing and there is no sign of a slowdown. To protect the world, intelligence services must harness it, and analyse it with Big Data.