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One such firm, Systems Research and Development (SRD), based in Las Vegas, uses an algorithm that looks for what are known as nonobvious relationships to flag a casino if one of its employees appears to have a connection to a known cheater. After cleansing databases of misspelled names and aliases, the software looks through the casino's customer databases, as well as public records it acquires, which may contain criminal charges, addresses and phone numbers. Within 90 days of implementation, a Louisiana riverboat casino caught four employees who were helping friends and family members cheat, including a roulette-wheel spinner who had shared a phone number with someone the casino had caught placing bets after the ball had landed. The same data-sifting capabilities, says SRD founder Jeff Jonas, can help police and intelligence agencies make sense of Arabic names that may be transliterated in a dozen ways.
The CIA's investments, typically no more than a couple of million dollars a year, give the agency a chance to tailor products to its needs while boosting the survival rate among small but innovative firms. A CIA investment in Intelliseek, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, accelerated the company's ability to give its software multilingual capabilities. In addition to creating a more useful product for CIA analysts, the investment allowed Intelliseek to enter international markets two years faster than it had planned.
Most tantalizing for counterterrorism investigators are the possibilities of predictive analysis. Technology from digiMine helps the J. Crew website identify the piece of clothing a shopper is most likely to buy based on his or her previous purchases. A loan company using predictive-analysis software from Sightward, based in Bellevue, Wash., discovered that the No. 1 indicator of whether Web applicants will go through with a loan rather than merely check current quotes was whether they voluntarily identified their gender on the website.
ABM, based in Nottingham, England, has sold its predictive software to both businesses and law-enforcement agencies, primarily in its home market. Police in Hampshire, England, used the system to analyze patterns behind a rash of burglaries within an apartment complex and determined which building was likely to be the next target. Police stepped up patrols there and arrested a man carrying out a computer at 4 a.m. He confessed to the other crimes.
Even more useful is new software that links the databases of different agencies or divisions of large corporations. Such software languages as XML (short for extensible markup language) provide a universal translator that can reach into the oldest computer systems and make them comprehensible to customized search engines and data-mining applications. Autonomy has enabled employees of such megafirms as BP, General Electric and General Motors to retrieve information from their companies' mishmash of databases around the globe. By installing such software, GM was able to offer its employees easy access to each of its 700 intranets and thereby reduce the tech staff used to maintain these systems from 30 full-time positions to one half-timer.