Obama adviser suggests artificial intelligence might do a better job running the criminal justice system

Those artificial intelligence programs being created by Google and other brain trusts are getting more clever by the day. When they’re not beating game masters in a Go tournament they’re composing new, original music. But leave it to the government to try to make the best use of new technology. We can’t be satisfied with simply replacing our chess grand masters and Beyonce’ with a snazzy new algorithm, so at least one expert in the Obama administration is pondering a new idea. Maybe they could replace judges in the courtroom. (NextGov)

Artificial intelligence might soon become a standard part of criminal justice proceedings.

If used carefully, the technology might make fairer decisions about the length of prison sentences, determine which police officers to deploy and could also churn through body-worn camera footage, a senior White House adviser said Tuesday.

Lynn Overmann, senior adviser within the Office of Science and Technology and co-leader of the White House Police Data Initiative, described the potential role of, and challenges associated with, artificial intelligence in the criminal justice system. She spoke at the second of four workshops co-hosted by the White House about the technology’s ability to help the public and the government.

In what sound like a collision between Minority Report and Judge Dredd, Ms. Overmann made reference to a proposal on the table in Pennsylvania which would analyze statistics about felons before they commit a crime. Of course, such a plan has some inherent flaws (in her opinion) because there might be built-in bias in the data being used in the program. Perhaps artificial intelligence could be colorblind enough to sort out those difficulties. Also, she’s talking about one of these HAL 9000 style robots pouring through all of the dashboard and body camera footage recorded by police officers. Why?

To determine “if a cop is likely to use force inappropriately.”

If you’re not already feeling a bit sick to your stomach, you should be. There’s a reason why we have ranges of possible punishment for various crimes and give latitude to judges when determining where on that range a convicted offender should fall. A variety of circumstances and mitigating factors have to be taken into consideration when making such decisions and it requires a human being to balance them all out. It doesn’t always work perfectly, of course. (That Stanford rape case is probably a prime example.) But for the most part the system works and is self-correcting when it doesn’t. You can’t just feed a set of criminal codes and mandatory sentences into a computer and have it spit out a sentence if you want any real semblance of justice. But now that the computers are acting more like people, shall we give them a shot at the job? I’m reminded of the sentence imposed on mankind by Colossus in The Forbin Project within moments of being turned on.

As for reviewing police camera footage, I think there’s clearly room for more advanced technology to be used. With so much digital data being collected, we could definitely try out some face recognition software and similar processes to produce lists of possible leads and matches. But they would still have to be reviewed by a human being before we let the system being issuing blanket arrest warrants. As to the idea of having Google’s creation peer over the shoulders of all the cops to predict which ones might be involved in a lethal force encounter at the “wrong” juncture… just pack up the police departments and close them down now.

I thought The Purge was purely dystopian science fiction. Maybe we need to be giving it a second look. It’s got to be as good as turning over our criminal justice system to robots.