Stranger Things and Missing Children


What to say about Stranger Things?  Well… it’s a strange show.  To be honest, I watched this show purely out of peer pressure.  Once I started though, I finished in 2 days.


The interesting thing about Stranger Things is that I did devour it, there was a binge-worty quality to it, but I didn’t really like it.  While watching, I did not focus on the plot of the upside down, or of the supernatural qualities of the character “seven” as most fans do.  The actual details of the show are rather immaterial to the technology spin I was consumed with.  Therefore, I’ll avoid a show recap.  If you live on Earth, you probably have an idea of the storyline.  Instead of focusing on the entertainment value of the show, I want to talk about the parallels to real life, and how technology has a decent chance to make a difference.


In this show, a middle school aged boy (Will Byers) disappears.  His mother, understandably is in anguish for the majority of the season wanting her child back.  This is the story that I was consumed with… thinking about this mother missing her child and about the countless families who experience this pain in real life.


Unfortunately, far too many children are abducted or separated from their families in the United States.  One is too many, but nearly 2000 kids are reported missing each day.  Some are family abductions and custody disputes, some are kidnapped and some are runaways. Regardless of the circumstances of a child being separated from their parents I can only imagine the pain is unbearable when one must not know where their child is and if s/he is alive or suffering in some way.


The thing is… these kids have a digital footprint.  They are entered into a database when they are reported missing.  Their images are cataloged. We know things about them.  Now consider those who runaway or are abducted and find themselves as victims of child prostitution.  Once again, the sad reality is that this happens to a lot of kids who leave their homes willingly, and to many who are forced into the life through other circumstances.  Kids are treated as a commodity.  While this is sick and tragic it does provide us with an opportunity for technology to do good.  It provides us with the chance to identify them through their ads and rescue them from their situation.


The deep and dark web is overflowing with images of exploited children.  Pedophiles trade these images like baseball cards and use them to shop for sexual encounters.  This could be an opportunity for deep learning to make a real difference and save a life.  As I watched Stranger Things and thought of real mothers grieving for their lost children I thought… what if someone was mining the deep web for images of exploited children.  What if they had a successful scrape and were able to compare these images to the images of missing and exploited children and could therefore target investigations to recover these kids?  Wouldn’t that be something?


Naturally this is something law enforcement would have to build, as any budding data scientist could not legally collect a decent data sample to train their neural net. I do hope that this is a work in progress and one day we will see children rescued as a result of technology.  In the meantime, I urge everyone with data science skills to think of how you can use them to better the world.  Applying this technology to enhance business results is very cool, binge watching shows and applying technology to the plot lines is fun.  Rescuing children with your computer… that’s on another level.


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