China has developed an artificial intelligence capable of charging people with more than 97% accuracy, replacing prosecutors “to a certain extent,” according to its researchers.
How it works: The machine, built and tested by the Shanghai Pudong People’s Procuratorate — China’s largest district prosecution office — can file a charge based only on verbal description, according to the South China Morning Post. The program runs on a desktop computer.
- Researchers “trained” the machine between 2015 and 2020 using over 17,000 cases. It can now charge a suspect based on 1,000 “traits” gathered from a human-documented description of a case.
- At present, the machine can charge eight of the most common crimes in Shanghai. These include fraud, credit card fraud, theft, dangerous driving, intentional injury, obstructing official duties, running a gambling operation and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.”
- The machine works with another program called System 206, which reportedly evaluates evidence, conditions for an arrest, and the degree of danger a suspect poses to the public. It’s unclear how many jurisdictions are currently employing the tool.
What the researchers are saying: The new AI “prosecutor” has its limitations, but developers say it will only get better with upgrades. So far, it helps reduce the workload of prosecutors at the district office, giving them time to focus on more complex tasks.
- Shi Yong, the machine’s lead scientist — who is also the director of the big data and knowledge management laboratory at the Chinese Academy of Sciences — said it can “replace prosecutors in the decision-making process to a certain extent.” That extent excludes the ability to suggest sentences, among other legal procedures.
- A more advanced program should be able to eliminate data that are irrelevant to a case, the researchers suggested. It should also be capable of converting the evolving human language into a standard format computers can understand.
What observers are saying: While the machine is being lauded for its accuracy, some observers have raised concerns on potential errors. Others believe the program will be used to stifle dissent, considering its ability to charge people for “provoking trouble.”
- “The accuracy of 97% may be high from a technological point of view, but there will always be a chance of a mistake,” one prosecutor from Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, told SCMP. “Who will take responsibility when it happens? The prosecutor, the machine or the designer of the algorithm?”
- Supporters, on the other hand, say artificial intelligence eliminates human errors. System 206, which debuted in Shanghai in January 2019, was praised for helping the court judge impartially. “The transcript and evidence presentation went along as the trial proceeded. The 206 system realized full-course intelligence assistance and reviewed evidences comprehensively, playing an active role in impartial judgment,” said Wu Haiyin, deputy head of the information department of the Shanghai High People’s Court, according to state-run China Daily.