No, robot –Why pre-crime tech could hurt the criminal law system


The criminal law system in the US (and in most countries, to be frank) is a constant facet in the delicate fabric that makes up all that keeps the United States functioning wholly. Throughout history, the humble (and sometimes tightly strung) fabric of the law has worked towards forging and maintaining a country that is as safe as possible. Laws are intended, after all, to create a system that protects and fights for the rights of the innocent, the victims, while punishing those who are guilty, the perpetrators. As time has moved on, there have been many displays of the law in action that have proven its valuable as a formidable force, just as there are many that seem to disprove this same idea. With advancements surrounding US law and how it is handled continuing to force the law system into a state of evolution, tools like free arrest records and neighbourhood crime watches have proven their value as outsider assistances to the US criminal law system.

While these tools are no doubt useful, however, it seems that pre-crime technology is going to prove to be a pioneering force in transitioning the criminal law system into a more mature, formidable force. The criminal justice system in the US has long been hailed as both a system of immense success and a failure of systematic enforcement – it all depends on who you ask. Whichever side one agrees with, however, one thing is for certain – the criminal justice system is continuously amid a million cases, reports, accusations, trails, sentences, and arrests. The sheer volume of work is overwhelming, and it is not going anywhere any time soon. The advancement and development of pre-crime technology could solve the issue, but it could also make it far worse.

The reigning denominator in criminal law cases has long been the discovery of any fingerprints, but this is set to change if facial recognition is brought onto the scene. As one of pre-crime technology’s proudest accomplishments, facial recognition technology is expected to be a pioneering force in crime technology. The basic idea of instituting pre-crime technology is that it will drive policing by inserting data-driven, predictive methods that aim to make identifying criminals easier and more efficient. The criminal law system has seen many wrong identification at the hands of human error, so turning over this stage of criminal law to machines designed to carry out that very task seems logical, even sensible.

While this may seem clear-cut in theory, the issues with taking facets of criminal law processing like criminal identification digital speak for themselves. Facial recognition software seems like a revolutionary theory in practical motion that could make the jobs of law enforcement infinitely easier, but the software carries with it the unspoken fact that, in differing lights, environments, and even locations the software may not be as fine-tuned as those creating it want it to be. For example, if a theft is committed, caught on tape, and facial recognition is used to determine who the perpetrator is, if the person on film has a long, all-consuming beard and is wearing a hoodie and sunglasses, their entire face is effectively obscured, and facial recognition is more difficult than it would be on someone who is clean-shaved and not wearing sunglasses or a hat. It is a simple realisation, but it is one that is, at this stage, to be taken with a grain of salt.

The usefulness of artificial intelligence is, at its core, the ability to make incredibly accurate predictions based on collective data. The criminal law system, therefore, is theoretically the perfect grounds to test pilot the technology. With so many constantly moving pieces, attention to detail is vital to success; while pre-crime technology seems like a natural progression in the name of accuracy and overall success, it comes with many challenges that, if not addressed immediately and efficiently, could damage the criminal law system, not strengthen it, as intended. The criminal law system is abundant with issues and concerns, and while AI is thought to being well on the way to becoming a driving force in the law system, it also has the capacity to be tremendously damaging, should it be rolled out on a broader scale.

Since the dawn of its inception, criminal law has been abundant with issues and questions of how to make it better, how to make it stronger, and how to make it faster and more capable. Over time, there have been many laws and ideals written and adjusted in the name of this goal, but perhaps none of them have held as much promise as pre-crime technology. Despite its potential, however, pre-crime technology holds a lot of uncertainty in its current stages, and it has the potential to cause more damage than positive impact. Moving forward, further adjustment and realignment is needed if pre-crime technologies (including AI and machine learning capabilities) are to have significant, lasting, and positive impact for all involved with the criminal law system.


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