Our country is a place of unlimited possibilities. Our society allows people to accomplish things no one could even imagine. But imagination can go both ways. Unfortunately, the unimaginable is not always good. Once again, a deranged man with a military-like AR-15 style assault rifle massacred 19 elementary school kids and 2 teachers in Uvalde, Texas. Such an unimaginable tragedy is becoming as imaginable as going to the grocery store… where another unimaginable tragedy occurred when another teenager bought an AR-15 rifle and killed 10 supermarket shoppers in Buffalo, NY, just a few days prior to the Uvalde mass murder.
And these are only two of the most recent (as of the writing of this article last week) unimaginable horrific gun violence tragedies that continue to plague are country.
Meanwhile, just this past weekend the United States recorded about 10 more mass shootings with about a dozen dead. This. Has. To. Be. Stopped!
From the get go, let me be clear. I am not against the second amendment, but I think it’s nuts that AR-15 style assault rifles are legal, let alone that many states allow the purchase of a gun with nothing more than a driver’s license and money. The U.S. Senate, and Congress, need to act on sensible gun regulations and background checks legislation immediately. Unfortunately, even the strongest gun control advocates agree that this is unlikely to happen any time soon. So, while we are continuing to push change on that front, is there anything else that can be done?
I think there is.
Air accident investigators will tell you that a deadly crash is seldom the result of one single point of process or equipment breakdown, but rather it is usually the product of a string of malfunctions and failures that stack up to a disastrous result. If any one of these events is stopped from happening, the crash would most likely not have occurred and lives would have been saved.
The same is usually true for mass gun violence incidents. Most of the time, the series of events leading up to a mass shooting is complex, with many points where even a flap of the wings of a butterfly can stop the next mass murder tragedy in its tracks.
The usual horrific plot is, unfortunately, well-known – a mentally disturbed individual has been sliding downwards in a psychological abyss until deep enough to start thinking, and then acting, on a plan to acquire guns most suitable for mass annihilation, along with enough ammunition to kill as many innocent people as possible and then to pick a location to act out their heinous intentions. And, we later find out, after the fact, that oftentimes the future killers have been telegraphing their intentions freely online to anyone who would think to listen.
In Uvalde it appears that the M.O. was not much different. Reports slowly emerge indicating that the shooter’s behavior in the days and months before the tragedy was so disturbing that even some people from his online social circle openly called him “the school shooter” and even asked him, point blank, if he was going to “shoot up an elementary school” – to which he apparently replied “wait and you’ll see”.
If at any point someone, or something (as in “technology”), flagged this person and his behavior, the long string of connected dots that led to these tragic events would have been broken and lives would have been saved. Similar case can be made for many, if not most, mass shootings in our country.
Indeed, in hindsight it is hard to understand why no one sounded the alarm. But hindsight vision is always perfect. The bigger question we should be asking here is why technology didn’t see this coming.
You see, we live in a day and age where Google, Facebook and the other big tech companies know more about us than we even know about ourselves. How many times have you typed something in the search bar, not even sure what you are searching for, only to be amazed to see that just after inputting a couple of characters the very first suggestion that pops up happens to be exactly what you were looking for?
If you don’t know what I am talking about I can safely assume that you’ve never used Google before. Technology knows where we are about to go, what we are about to do, what news we want to see, who we want to meet, how we want our food prepared, and even what questions we have, before we even ask them.
Technology and AI are getting so good at knowing each and every one of us that online outlets know what I want to buy before I even start browsing, TV streaming services are perfectly tuned to my taste and I don’t have to even move a finger to look at online ads that exactly match both my wants and needs (how did they know that we were about to run out of dish washing detergent?).
So, I ask, with all this computing power and advanced machine learning capabilities out there, with all this knowledge that technology possesses about each of us, how is it possible that not one algorithm raised a flag on these soon-to-be mass murderers. Is technology still not advanced enough yet? Or are we not using it when it really counts?
Based on what I see on my computer every day – from the highly predictive ads to the oracle-like abilities of my search engine to read my mind before I even start typing, to the suggestions that are custom-tailored for me when I shop online – I think technology is way beyond the point where it can identify, with reasonable certainty, when someone needs help before they turn into the next mass shooter.
We shouldn’t turn our eyes and energy away from trying to fix the main problem – too many assault-style weapons that shouldn’t have a place in our society and that are too readily available in our country. But with Washington in a decades-long gridlock that doesn’t appear to be possible to break any time soon on this issue, we should also look at other possible solutions to the problem with equal conviction.
We have to make corporations and Big Tech leaders realize that they can, and should, play a major role on the issue of gun violence in our country. I can hear privacy advocates voicing concerns about personal rights and, well, privacy issues if we embark on this road. But, all this monitoring, data gathering and predictive behavior modeling has been in business for years now. And we all seem perfectly fine with it. The difference is that this time it could be used to save lives, instead of being employed to make profits.
As the last of the small bodies of the innocent elementary school children and their two teachers massacred in Uvalde are buried, we shouldn’t stop trying to find a legislative solution to the problem. But we already know – the chance of Washington doing something is slim. (That’s why your vote matters!)
So, while we wait for politicians to do their jobs, what can we do to try to stop this carnage from continuing?
In the country where unimaginable possibilities become tomorrow’s reality, businesses and individuals need to rally together as one community and look for solutions beyond politics. And technology might be a good place to start.
Naiden Stoyanov is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Stamford Plus and Norwalk Plus magazine and the Canaiden Online Media Network