Wisdom Of The Crowd explores crowdsourcing in solving crimes

Jeremy Piven plays a technology mogul who invents a crowdsourcing app to find his daughter's killer.
Jeremy Piven plays a technology mogul who invents a crowdsourcing app to find his daughter's killer.PHOTO: FOX ENTERTAINMENT GROUP

Wisdom Of The Crowd explores the use of crowdsourcing in solving cases

People already turn to crowdsourcing for traffic updates and restaurant reviews, so why not crime-fighting?

If you are already thinking of several reasons why not, you will appreciate the controversy sparked by the premise of a new case-of-the-week crime drama, Wisdom Of The Crowd, which premieres in Singapore today on Fox (Singtel TV Channel 330 and StarHub TV Channel 505).

Jeremy Piven plays Jeffrey Tanner, a technology mogul who, tortured by his daughter's murder, invents a crowdsourcing app so that the public can help find her killer, revolutionising crime-fighting in the process.

Several early reviews say it paints an overly optimistic view of such technology while downplaying its more troubling implications, which include promoting vigilante justice and a pervasive surveillance culture.

Speaking to reporters in Los Angeles recently, the show's creator, Ted Humphrey, admits the idea of crowdsourcing crime-solving terrified him initially, especially as he had worked as a lawyer for several years, "so the privacy and due-process concerns scare the hell out of me".

"Particularly in the last year, we've all encountered both the yin and the yang of the Internet - the way it can be used as a vehicle for human cooperation and also a haven for conspiracy theories and fake news and whatever else you might want to point to."

He adds that the worst version of this happened after the Boston marathon bombings of 2013, when people took matters into their own hands and started "looking for the people responsible", referring to the false accusations that circulated after the terrorist attack.

Wisdom Of The Crowd, he says, is "not going to shy away from" exploring the dark side of crowdsourcing.

But Humphrey, who wrote and produced the Emmy-winning legal-criminal procedural The Good Wife (2009 to 2016), also believes crowdsourcing can be tremendously useful if properly directed.

In any case, the overall trend appears to be unstoppable, he notes. It "is something that we all use every day". "Yelp is crowdsourcing, Waze is crowdsourcing and, The New York Times, when it tells you what the top stories of the day are, is crowdsourcing."

Law-enforcement bodies are beginning to use it too. "It goes back to the days of Wanted posters, but in its modern iteration, it's putting things on their Facebook page, it's putting things on Twitter, it's (emergency missing-person) alerts," Humphrey says.

There are a handful of platforms already trying to do what the app in the show does, so "we would be burying our heads in the sand to say this will never happen".

In the show, the app Tanner builds because he is convinced the wrong man was convicted of his daughter's murder, is merely "the next iteration of that".

But while Tanner thinks his app is a good idea - that crowdsourcing is driven by people's inherent altruism and desire for community - the actor who plays him says the possibilities are "scary".

Piven, 52, says the worst outcome would be "vigilante behaviour".

But he adds that this particular premise, at its best, imagines "pooling the best resources you possibly can, crystallising how to achieve it and then doing so".

"And anyone who has ever heard this premise, they all say pretty much the same thing, which is: 'That could actually happen today and if it already doesn't exist, it will exist.' So, we are playing with something that feels authentic."

Piven, who won three Emmys playing irascible show-business agent Ari Gold in Entourage (2004 to 2011), says he was also drawn to the story by his character "and the idea that this guy is heartbroken and trying to fill that void".

"And to play a guy who has those layers and who will ultimately do the wrong thing for the right reasons is, I think, a brilliant premise."

•Wisdom Of The Crowd airs in Singapore on Fox (Singtel TV Channel 330 and StarHub TV Channel 505) on Wednesdays at 9pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2017, with the headline 'Crime-fighting by the numbers'. Print Edition | Subscribe