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Justice vs. Black Box Technologies


More and more these days, law enforcement depends on artificial intelligence (AI) in the pursuit of criminals or in making determinations on how to move forward with investigations, or even with how to determine the best punishments for convicted individuals.  What’s also more common is the fact that AI algorithms are increasingly complex and/or secret, otherwise known as black box.

What are we Talking About? 

Black box technologies in the criminal justice system are those that use technical algorithms to interpret DNA mises, facial recognition, and even risk assessments for recidivism. It is a complicated science that is not really understood by most people, but that has a strong influence on the way people think about evidence in a court case.  Judges, juries, and policymakers all rely on conclusions arrived at through black box technologies.  This is problematic because that reliance is rooted in secretive and complex science that can easily be misunderstood, and even downright incorrect.

No Regulation

AI has become so prolific these days that the legal system has been unable to keep up with regulation in order to protect the rights of individuals every single day. The technologies are mystical, sometimes by design and sometimes due to corporate secrecy. When civil rights violations are alleged, it has so far been nearly impossible to make a case, simply because the technology is so opaque. That fact, too, has made regulation difficult so far.

Reliance on the Technology 

Plenty of judges believe in and rely on this technology, and, in fact, protect it from closer examination.  One such case involved a challenge to the technology and a request that independent evaluators review it, where the judge refused the defense challenge and inspection proposal on the grounds that the company would not be able to market its technology if it were more transparent.

How Accurate is it? 

So can this technology be trusted to come to fair and accurate conclusions? Absolutely, say the corporations who market it and who run the testing. Of course, their financial motives to produce favorable results are clear, and no one else is allowed to take a closer look.

AI explanations don’t always stick to a model’s calculations, either. In fact, many explainable methods disagree with one another, meaning some of the explanations must be wrong.  Nonetheless, advocates of the technologies argue that some mistakes are worth tolerating because of the accuracy provided in other cases.  Huh? Sacrificing some constitutional rights is acceptable because there’s a chance others will be protected?  How much sense does that make? Do we really want decisions impacting life and liberty locked up in a black box that no one outside of corporate biggies comprehends?

 For Example… 

In one case, a medical examiner’s testimony based on genotyping software were challenged, and multiple concerns unraveled as the court took a closer look at the accuracy of the conclusions. Later, another judge ruled that relying on this kind of evidence is a mistake, and even suggested a review of convictions based on such evidence because independent experts have not been able to examine the technology and corroborate conclusions. That judge estimated that when there are four or more DNA samples being evaluated, black box technologies are likely wrong more than half the time.

Black Box Technology 

Are you battling for your life against black box technology? The Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at Lobo Law can help. Schedule a confidential consultation in our office today.


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