Decades ago, when imagining the practical uses of artificial intelligence, science fiction writers imagined autonomous digital minds that could serve humanity. Sure, sometimes a HAL 9000 or WOPR would subvert expectations and go rogue, but that was very much unintentional, right?
And for many aspects of life, artificial intelligence is delivering on its promise. AI is, as we speak, looking for evidence of life on Mars. Scientists are using AI to try to develop more accurate and faster ways to predict the weather.
But when it comes to policing, the actuality of the situation is much less optimistic. Our HAL 9000 does not assert its own decisions on the world—instead, programs which claim to use AI for policing just reaffirm, justify, and legitimize the opinions and actions already being undertaken by police departments.
AI presents two problems, tech-washing, and a classic feedback loop. Tech-washing is the process by which proponents of the outcomes can defend those outcomes as unbiased because they were derived from “math.” And the feedback loop is how that math continues to perpetuate historically-rooted harmful outcomes. “The problem of using algorithms based on machine learning is that if these automated systems are fed with examples of biased justice, they will end up perpetuating these same biases,” as one philosopher of science notes.