by Evan Sixtin
The blockchain is being adopted in so many industries and by several government services all around the world. Zug, Switzerland is using it for citizen identification, Maersk and Walmart are using it for supply chain tracking, and TUI Tourism Group wants to use it for hotel and tour bookings. Furthermore, governments in countries like Brazil, Sweden, and Georgia are using distributed ledgers for real estate and land registry records, Malta is using it to award university diplomas and other educational and professional certifications. Companies like Gem, Philips, and YouBase are using it for healthcare while MIT is developing the blockchain healthcare system called MedRec, and Estonia is using the blockchain for… well, just about everything.
Despite the speed in which blockchain technology is being adopted in other areas of the social arena, there remains one government system in every society in every country in the world which is still desperately in need of an upgrade but moving at a snail’s pace or sometimes standing completely still. Although it is still controversial, the combination of AI algorithm technology along with a blockchain distributed ledger to replace outdated criminal justice systems globally could have the greatest compassionate effect on human suffering among any digitized social structure to date and alleviate abominable injustices that exist in prisons throughout the world.
Futuristic justice systems based on artificial intelligence have been given a bad rap by Hollywood and have been portrayed negatively in sci-fi movies like Elysium and The Fifth Element. They are represented as inhumane, incompetent, and lacking basic human compassion. In reality, however, it is the human justice system which can be terribly inhumane, removing individuals’ freedom and subjecting them to torturous conditions as detainees or defendants, not yet even judged as offenders or convicted criminals. This is due to the inefficiency of courts to provide a speedy trial. In countries like the Philippines, where courts are extremely backed up, it is common that people are held in prison for ten years or longer simply awaiting a trial. The conditions in some of these prisons are often not even fit for animals. People sit, lie, and sleep on the floors inside cages for 22 hours a day, where there might be only 20 beds but over 100 people. They may not receive medical care and have been denied medicine even for life-threatening, highly contagious diseases like tuberculosis. They could live like this for a decade, or even die in prison, still as detained defendants, before they are even proved guilty. A vivid reminder of this horrible reality can be seen in Episode 4 of the Netflix documentary series, “Inside The World’s Toughest Prisons.”
This kind of acute inefficiency which results in situations of extreme cruelty and inhumanity have no place in a civilized society; it is unacceptable. Applied to these malfunctioning justice systems, the synthesis of AI and blockchain could directly relieve suffering and injustice caused by inefficient paper and legacy systems that result in peoples’ lives being ruined. But how?
A joint report by the Police Foundation together with CGI, in the U.K., concluded that, “Digitalization and new technologies, notably blockchain, could improve processes and join up services. The range of technologies and potential applications for the CJS is extensive… At the same time, greater use of automation could improve the speed and quality of completing tasks such as auditing casework, and in the future could even help to address issues such as subjective bias in judicial decision-making… Blockchain technologies could present a unique opportunity to increase accuracy and transparency through secure, auditable distributed records.”
This same report explains, “…the UK’s largely paper-based justice system remains wedded to archaic practices and legacy IT systems that only results in inefficient services. An example of this is that across the UK’s court system, only half of trials take place on the day they were scheduled to do so, with manual-heavy processes only resulting in unnecessary duplication and increased margins of error.”
Artificial intelligence algorithms are already being used by some judges to determine the likelihood of a repeat offender. Compas, a risk assessment tool, is used in the U.S. by the Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections to determine if an offender is a high or low risk to society. It is a web-based tool designed to assess offenders’ criminogenic needs and risk of recidivism. “Statistically based risk/needs assessments have become accepted as established and valid methods for organizing much of the critical information relevant for managing offenders in correctional settings (Quinsey, Harris, Rice, & Cormier, 1998). Many research studies have concluded that objective statistical assessments are, in fact, superior to human judgment (Grove, Zald, Lebow, Snitz, & Nelson, 2000; Swets, Dawes, & Monahan, 2000). In overloaded and crowded criminal justice systems, brevity, efficiency, ease of administration and clear organization of key risk/needs data are critical.”
Lynn Overmann, senior adviser within the Office of Science and Technology and co-leader of the White House Police Data Initiative thinks that AI 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. When joined with blockchains, AI can be used to scale down and overhaul jammed up judicial systems where cases are limited to paper records, working hours, lost files, human error, and antiquated legacy systems.
CrowdJury.org is an interesting example of an entirely new, radical judicial system built with blockchain technology. It seeks to crowdsource every part of the judicial process using Ethereum smart contracts to structure the system, and it even rewards and incentivizes participants with bitcoin. Although Crowdjury does not utilize AI, it shows us the power of the blockchain to manage the records of an entire judicial system thoroughly. Distributed cryptographic ledgers will reduce cost, save time, and increase transparency, speed, and accuracy when processing justice system data for entire populations of prisoners across many different locations.
One noteworthy development in CSJ AI was created by computer scientists at University College London, who have constructed a very competent “AI Judge.” “The algorithm examined English language data sets for 584 cases relating to torture and degrading treatment, fair trials and privacy. In each case, the software analyzed the information and made its own judicial decision. In 79 percent of those assessed, the AI verdict was the same as the one delivered by the court.” So we already have the ability to judge cases using artificial intelligence with almost 80 percent accuracy.
In countries like the Philippines and other less developed nations that do not have any guarantee for a speedy trial or even humane incarceration, the combination of an efficient AI algorithm for judging cases based on statistics, along with the speed and efficiency of blockchain to record data, could automate the justice system in a way that would bring more humanity and compassion to people suffering from an overloaded, brutal, and merciless human system. Of course, at first, a digitized criminal justice system might not get it right every time, but it could speed through cases at thousands of times the pace of the legacy system with a fair enough amount of accuracy to succeed spectacularly in uncluttering the blocked up courts while preventing unwarranted suffering of detainees who have not yet been convicted of a crime. If the automated system does make an error, cases can be appealed to a higher court run by human judges, lawyers, and jurors to review these digital decisions. In a tiered system like this, the blockchain and AI could be introduced right now into the justice system in these countries where people are experiencing extreme injustices due to the inefficiencies of the courts, while still retaining a level of insurance that errors can be amended.
In the criminal justice systems of third world countries, as well as first world countries, the abilities of blockchain and AI to automate the courts, remove humans, and transform them into more efficient machinations of justice could bring a new dawn of humanity and compassion into the lives of people savagely victimized by the inefficiency of an unsympathetic human-run bureaucracy.