Predicting the Next Terrorist Attack with PredictifyMe

We live in times where we dread that when the next terrorist attack will happen. We don’t know what the targets will be, where will the terrorists strike or how much death & destruction will they wreak on any given day.

In an ideal world, these shouldn’t be the things that we’d worry about as we wake up and go along our day’s routine. But unfortunately for us, things have gotten to the state where, after every attack, we can already guess what the newspaper headlines and the breaking news tickers on the idiot box going into overdrive will be.

The thing about long wars is, that we risk becoming immune to the daily death and destruction that it brings with itself.

How much more of this are we to tolerate silently?

ejaz-haider-quote
The recent episode at Bacha Khan University wasn’t the first of its kind. And it certainly won’t be the last. That much everybody knows.

But.

What if there was a way to prevent (or at least minimize) that? What if we were able to prevent all the death and destruction before it unfolded? What we wouldn’t do to prevent another APS or BKU or the countless other atrocities perpetuated by terrorists all around the world who have no regard for human lives?

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Catching an ideologically-motivated terrorist before they perpetuate their vile deed? Can we predict the next terrorist attack before it actually happens? By relying on connected machines and crowdsourced data and by augmentation of the scientific method aided by today’s technologies?

Sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie? Not anymore.

The Story of Dr. Zeeshan Usmani, Data Scientist and Co-Founder of PredictifyMe

The dead don’t die. They look on and help. Remember that, John. – Minority Report by Philip K. Dick

In this world, with smartphones and data and social media keeping information flowing like no one’s business, surely there would be someone out there who could be able to make sense of it all and prevent the next terrorist atrocity from ever happening.

That someone is Dr. Zeeshan-ul-Hassan Usmani, who developed an algorithm along with his co-collaborator Rob Burns, that can identify when’s the next terrorist attack on an educational institution going to happen. In 2014, PredictifyMe was officially launched, after raising $300,000 approximately in funding.

Here’s how PredictifyMe Works

A simulation model is developed for a school, detailing which areas are vulnerable, when or where suicide bombings can occur. To minimize potential injuries, preemptive measures are developed based on any security loopholes that PredictifyMe finds. The makers of PredictifyMe believe that its accuracy in predicting fatalities and injury rates is 91%, since it also relies on data publically available in published academic papers, concerning simulated studies on how blasts affect buildings and armored vehicles. This data, gathered from controlled explosions and cutting-edge computational fluid-dynamics research, spanning a couple of decades, helps engineers and architects reinforce and refine their designs for a preemptive approach to building security-conscious structures.

From his humble beginnings in Sukkur and as the youngest of the 14 siblings in his family, Dr. Zeeshan has seen how the extremist threat in Pakistani society spread its tentacles far and wide, claiming victims across society no matter which class, creed or sect you belonged to.

His endless pursuit in academics, made him become a Fullbright scholar at the Florida Institute of Technology, during the same time as the Taliban unleashed their suicide squads throughout Pakistan. He dropped computer science in favor of doctoral studies, serving as the basis for him creating the predictive algorithm that’s in use in PredictifyMe today.

“If you give me the description of wounds, I can provide you with the name of the probable culprits.” – Dr. Zeeshan Usmani

In December 2009, a Shiite religious procession was attacked, with 40 reported casualties. The investigators initially believed it to be a suicide attack. Mr. Usmani’s analysis was sought by the Karachi Police. After going through the data available from the injuries, it was concluded that a planted explosive was used to target the procession.

Making Sense of Data Science for Terrorist Threats Prediction and Analysis

Dr. Zeeshan collected data across 10 years pertaining to victims of suicide bombing in Pakistan. Whilst sifting through records for about 13,000 victims, he discovered that behind these seemingly random acts of death and destruction, some common patterns and behaviors became visible to take shape.


How PredictifyMe Predicts Terrorist Attacks and Identifies Perpetuators

As Chief Data Scientist and co-Founder at PredictifyMe (a US-based security software company), the algorithm he devised with his team crunches some 150+ variables for a school, a process that gives schools a three to seven day window to see if they’re at risk of a terrorist attack.

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His software has already become part of the Safe School Initiative Program by UN, hoping to target 1000 Pakistan schools initially and growing to 200,000 if all goes well. Nigeria and Lebanon are also part of this initiative as well.

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Protecting 30 million school going children and that too across Pakistan is nothing to take lightly. Recently, we saw how confusion reigned supreme following the directives to close schools on the last week of January. The cover story at that time was that it was ‘too cold to keep educational institutions open,’ with the real reason – impending threat of terrorism – kept under wraps in order to avoid mass panic. But we all know how that turned out.

This is where the civil and military leadership comes in. Initiatives like PredictifyMe are a no-brainer when the only thing on line is human lives. Let no corners be cut when it comes to that. As another round of blame games and name-the-culprit goes around, we’d do well to remember one thing.

At the end, we and only we alone are responsible for securing the lives of our future generation. All else is secondary to that. Let us hope that things turn around for Pakistan, with various de-radicalization initiatives going hand-in-hand with counter-terrorism operations undertaken in the name of making Pakistanis safer.

Samir heads the sponsored content department at ProPakistani. He also looks after the LIfe section.


  • Asim Fayaz

    How exactly is this software being used to protect schools? Who is using it? What are the datasets and how are they sourced? I wrote to Zeeshan after the CNN story came out and he remained silent when I asked him to elaborate.

  • Spell

    WTF… Its all Bullshit… Just to make it more worse…

  • Mainichi

    I don’t see how this algorithm can predict when a terrorist attack will take place or even which educational institute will be targeted. It can probably only tell you how secure a school would be against a terrorist attack.

  • Arsalan Ali

    shouldn’t its name be like “PredictifyT”.. “T as in terrorist, cuz thats what it meant to be used for !!
    well thats none of my business i guess

  • umer

    Extreme bs and disappointed with software ban it please only God knows future.This bs software naiuzbillah want to do the same thing.It is our corrupt mind which is causing these attacks, floods etc all are warning signs. Be honest work with honesty according to Islamic teachings all problem will be solved.

    • Mainichi

      Wow I’m amazed that you were able to make this about religion. This is not a compliment.

      • umer

        Tell me other countries like Iran,Saudi Arabia,Qatar, Kuwait are using these software to.tackle terrorism? No they have strong believe they pray to Allah for help instead of getting help from these software. But it useless to tell you.

        • Mainichi

          So you are suggesting that we disband our army and just start praying to God? Do you actually believe that?

    • Wahib Ul Haq

      What the actual f*** dude ! Are you for real ? I am actually not surprised by your point of view and mindset. There are many like you but I am glad that people like you will never be in power. I really hope the light of education reaches you and others like you.

      For sure God knows future, no denying at all but did you even spent an iota of your brain to realise that this software can help in saving lives by helping agencies. Remember that hadith in which Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) has said that who saves one man is like saving humanity. We live in terrible times which require exceptional measures.

      If you are so ‘mazhabi’ extremist, then never dare to use phone for calling anyone and just pray and wait for your message being received by your friend/family. It is also a software which does this for you.

      Khuda Hafiz ! (now do comment on why I used ‘Khuda’ and not ‘Allah’)

    • Muhammed Ovais Alam

      I believe that you are sarcastic.
      Security agencies all over the world (including Pakistan?) can predict when a retarded bomber will attack next based on his last attack’s footprints or what’s the next target of a low life killer.
      It has NOTHING TO DO with religion.

  • Inam

    So here is what I’ve read. The algorithm can sort of reverse-engineer the type of terrorist attack based on the output of the actual attack. There was no clear explanation of how it’s gonna predict it before hand. What are those 150+ indicators may I ask?
    Nice stuff BTW.

    And well, still this approach caters to SYMPTOMS of a disease. We need to go to the ROOT of the problem.

  • BADAR

    Why you put this bloody photo? these are talibans…

  • Bucky

    This reminds me of Captain America Winter Soldier, remember Zola’s Algorithm? It is hard to believe that such a thing actually exists. If it does then looking at the current state of the world, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine this guy becoming the richest person in the world, every country is a potential customer.

  • rashid

    Can you please work on your typography, the articles are painful to read.

  • Muhammad Ather

    All our ministers, government official well aware and know before the attack, even they get information that a truck full of bombing material just entered the city last night and can hit anywhere. They predict far better than any other technology. Alas they don’t do any thing else to prevent.

  • Alizain

    Excellent initiative from Dr. Zeeshan that too a Pakistani. Moment of proudness!