As machine-learning algorithms, big data methods and artificial intelligence are increasingly used in the toolkit of U.S. law enforcement agencies, many are worrying that the existing biases of the criminal justice system are simply being automated – and deepened.
Police departments are increasingly relying on predictive algorithms to figure out where to deploy their forces by blanketing cities with a mesh of human-based and computerized surveillance technology including, but not limited to, data-mining, facial recognition, and predictive policing programs.
This comes despite the flaw in such tools. Facial recognition software have often held a bias toward darker-skinned individuals, including mistaking members of Congress for criminal suspects. In essence, racial profiling has become automated while allowing law enforcement agencies to claim that the computers are race-neutral tools.
In Los Angeles County, for example, all 47 police agencies are plugged into a biometrics system maintained by NEC Corporation of America, which claims to have the capacity to incorporate 15 million subjects into its facial recognition platform – giving a powerful boost to a wide-ranging suite of technology including closed-circuit cameras, StingRay phone trackers, and earthquake prediction software that identifies alleged crime “hot spots” based on historic data.
And now, courtrooms are increasingly relying on criminal risk assessment algorithms, according to a new report from MIT Technology Review.
Under the guise of trimming the number of prisoners while processing defendants efficiently, prisoners are being assigned recidivism scores that estimate to what extent it is likely that a perpetrator may or may not reoffend.
As author Karen Hao explains:
“A judge then factors that score into a myriad of decisions that can determine what type of rehabilitation services particular defendants should receive, whether they should be held in jail before trial, and how severe their sentences should be. A low score paves the way for a kinder fate. A high score does precisely the opposite.
The logic for using such algorithmic tools is that if you can accurately predict criminal behavior, you can allocate resources accordingly, whether for rehabilitation or for prison sentences. In theory, it also reduces any bias influencing the process, because judges are making decisions on the basis of data-driven recommendations and not their gut.
You may have already spotted the problem. Modern-day risk assessment tools are often driven by algorithms trained on historical crime data.”
The problem is that by relying on historical crime data, the communities that have been historically targeted by law enforcement – such as low-income and national, ethnic or religious minorities – are at risk of receiving higher recidivism scores. Hao continues:
“So if you feed it historical crime data, it will pick out the patterns associated with crime. But those patterns are statistical correlations—nowhere near the same as causations. If an algorithm found, for example, that low income was correlated with high recidivism, it would leave you none the wiser about whether low income actually caused crime. But this is precisely what risk assessment tools do: they turn correlative insights into causal scoring mechanisms.”
“As a result, the algorithm could amplify and perpetuate embedded biases and generate even more bias-tainted data to feed a vicious cycle,” Hao adds, noting that the proprietary nature of risk assessment algorithms renders any sort of accountability impossible.
In notes from the Data for Black Lives conference held earlier this month, Law for Black Lives executive director Marbre Stahly-Butts lays out the precise danger of new data-driven approaches to criminal justice:
“Data-driven risk assessment is a way to sanitize and legitimize oppressive systems … Demands of the community to change the system are being ‘met’ with an increased use of technology which actually lead to more over-surveillance of minority communities.”
In an age when the data industry has become entirely financialized, Big Data-driven policing has become a lucrative business. And while the economic gulf widens between poor communities and the one percent, with schools being defunded and health care growing less accessible for the poor, the surveillance industry and private jail industry are seeing a windfall of taxpayer dollars.
Jeff Bezos Thanks Amazon Workers And Customers For Paying For His Flight To Space
The billionaire space race chalked up one more ignoble milestone on July 20 when the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, boarded a reusable rocket his company Blue Origin built and funded, flew to the edge of space for a moment of weightlessness, and came back down to earth.
You can watch the flight and learn more about the journey here.
The Amazon founder has faced withering criticism for accumulating his massive fortune on the backs of an exploited workforce that is subject to harsh working conditions and low pay in warehouses or Fulfillment Centers where staffers must urinate in water bottles in order to meet their quotas.
In his press conference following the launch, Bezos thanked that same workforce for helping him to shoot himself into space in a move that many critics have described as a simple “joyride.”
“I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for this,” he told the crowd, which responded with laughter. “Seriously, for every Amazon customer out there and every employee thank you from the bottom of my heart very much. It’s very appreciated.”
Critics on Twitter responded with derision, noting that Bezos was able to enjoy the trip at the expense of his hard-working employees.
“Thing is, employers are supposed to pay their employees, not the other way around, but that’s basically how Amazon works,” one user tweeted.
While another tweeter asked: “Maybe they’re searching space for signs of a livable wage or a way to pay their fair share of taxes?”
On Tuesday, Bezos blasted off in the sub-orbital New Shepard rocket from Texas. The date for the launch was chosen to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Members of the crew, which included his brother mark and 82-year-old female astronaut Wally Funk, brought a number of historic items on the flight, including a piece of canvas from the conceptual plane originally flown by the Wright brothers, the goggles Amelia Earhart used to fly across the Atlantic, and a brass medal made from the first hot air balloon which flew in 1783.
Keanu Reeves Praised As Video of Him Offering Seat to Lady in Subway Resurfaces
Keanu Reeves is an actor who has long been loved by audiences —and not necessarily due to his acting skills, but due to how nice the John Wick star is.
And now, Reeves is once again earning praise as a “true gentleman” after resurfaced video footage shows Reeves giving up his seat on the subway.
The clip was shared by Instagram film fan account Cinemonkeys where it has since earned nearly 45,000 likes.
The video footage dates back to 2011, when it was shared on YouTube by a user of the video-sharing platform.
At the time, Reeves was already a superstar riding on the fame he earned from the Matrix, Speed, and a number of other blockbuster hits.
When Reeves notices a woman carrying a heavy bag, he quickly points to his seat and asks if she would like to sit. The woman accepts and Reeves gets up without hesitating to let her take his seat.
Reeves, ever the model citizen, then stands and holds onto a subway pole while carrying his bag.
The video has since been watched over 27 million times and was even cited in a 2019 Time magazine profile of the actor describing Reeves as the “soul mate” of the internet.
The resurfacing of the clip on Instagram once again impressed users of the platform.
“This human being’s soul honestly shines so bright,” wrote one user.
“OMG I love him in every single way,” another person commented.
“His kindness knows no bounds,” commented someone else.
Keanu is set to reprise his role as Neo in the upcoming fourth Matrix film directed and written by Lana Wachowski, who co-directed the earlier trilogy with her sister Lilly. He will also return to the silver screen in John Wick: Chapter 4, which will be released in 2022.
Drunk Man Rescues Injured Baby Bird By Sending It To Animal Shelter… In An Uber
An injured baby bird received a new lease on life after a young man who was inebriated had the good sense to send the little creature to an animal shelter because he and his friends were too drunk to drive.
In the Summer of 2019, a small lesser goldfinch suddenly appeared by itself at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah. The center’s chairman, Buz Marthaler, was notified by a volunteer who sent him a photo.
“It was a picture of this bird, and it had come by Uber,” Marthaler told FOX13. “It was just crazy.”
As it turns out, the tiny bird – which was only two weeks old – indeed rolled up to the site by its lonesome, the sole passenger in an Uber vehicle called by concerned citizens who found the injured creature.
Among those good Samaritans was Tim Crowley, who had been “day drinking” on that Saturday before he and his buddies witnessed the little bird fall from the sky.
“Impromptu, sitting in some camp chairs, hanging out, having a few drinks when we had a visitor fall out of the sky,” he explained.
Crowley then snapped a photo of the bird and sent it to the WRCNU, which instructed him to immediately bring the bird in. However, the group obviously couldn’t drive since they had been guzzling booze all day.
So Crowley decided he’d hail a cab for the creature.
“At first it was a joke, like, ‘Hey, maybe we should just call Uber!’” he said. “Then we were like, ‘No, really. Why not? We’re paying them.’”
As it turns out, the bird – since named “Petey Uber” by staff at the rescue center – likely would have perished if not for Crowley’s quick thinking.
Marthaler remains impressed by Crowley’s move and shared the news on its Facebook page.
“While we feel we’ve seen it all and can’t be amazed by anything, there is always someone out there to prove us wrong,” the shelter’s post read. “Thank you to the rescuer who helped this little one get the care it needed in a timely manner and thank you for keeping yourself safe and others on the road safe as well.”