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Innocent Until Predicted Guilty 430

theodp writes "Gizmodo has an angry piece on IBM helping Florida to predict how delinquent your child's going to be. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice has decided to start using IBM predictive analytics software to help them determine which of the 85,000 kids who enter their system each year poses the biggest future threat. From IBM's sales pitch: 'Predictive analytics gives government organizations worldwide a highly-sophisticated and intelligent source to create safer communities by identifying, predicting, responding to and preventing criminal activities. It gives the criminal justice system the ability to draw upon the wealth of data available to detect patterns, make reliable projections and then take the appropriate action in real time to combat crime and protect citizens.'"
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Innocent Until Predicted Guilty

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  • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <> on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:03AM (#31871298) Homepage Journal

    I imagine that the software is a Bayesian filter that takes in lots of seemingly unrelated factors and combines them into a score. First, yeah, I get the obvious dystopian implications - I won't argue against the awful possibilities if it were widely deployed. That said, isn't it possible that it could genuinely help some kids? Suppose those factors like increased absences and a couple of minor contacts with police indicate that Johnny is extremely likely to drop out of school. Maybe that's a good hint that someone needs to talk to Johnny and see if something correctable is going on in his life.

  • It all depends... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MojoRilla ( 591502 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:08AM (#31871368)
    It all depends on what they do with this software. My reading of this article is that this is an expert system for judges who sentence juvenile offenders. Typically judges have discretion in sentencing youth. They research the background, number of offenses, etc of the offender and pick an appropriate program. However, they don't have all the data to make a better decision. Do Latino youth who committed a second non-violent offense respond better (get arrested less often in the future) to mental health treatments, mentoring programs, or incarceration?

    This system seems to automate this process. So it is possible it will save money and produce better results than the current system, while still maintaining fairness. After all, if you have committed a crime, both the maximum and minimum penalties for what you did should be fair outcomes.
  • What is the problem? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kenp2002 ( 545495 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:15AM (#31871452) Homepage Journal

    Any reason why we are angry with this? The whole point appears to identify at-risk kids and make sure they get the support they need.

    A: Kid is from a low income family
    B: Kid lives in drug ridden neighborhood
    C: Kid eats twice a day
    D: Kid is in a single parent home

    Kid is BLAH BLAH% likely to commit a violent crime.

    A is 38% weighted
    B: is 14% weighted
    C: is 17% weighted
    D: is 9% weighted

    Per $ ROI indicates that an additional $4.22 spent weekly on school lunch program (C) will save $19.22 over 10 years in reduced criminal activity.

    Blah blah blah...

    Seems par for the course...

  • by linzeal ( 197905 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:18AM (#31871504) Homepage Journal

    The average child's behavior does have the potential to reliably predict future social and behavior patterns for the individual; however, there are outliers of varying types who would not be well served by this attempt at divining the 'future history' of individual human beings. Here are some of the types I have noticed.

    1. Situational issues such as abuse at home that cause anger, frustration and inappropriate behavior at school. Children's brains are luckily plastic enough to rewire themselves when presented with a new environment that is far more nurturing, safe and empowering.

    2. Schools/Neighborhoods that have been left to become warrens of crime will produce children that seek criminal behavior to 'fit in', even if they are articulate and attentive in class they may be encountering overwhelming peer pressure to conform to another set of behaviors outside the classroom or face ostracization.

    3. Mentally ill children who go unmedicated can be hellions the days they don't take their meds and perfectly reasonable mature human beings when they do. The flip side of this, is dealing with the many popular NT rich kids whose parents have gotten them adderall prescriptions babbling in the back of the classroom and acting hyper aggressive on the playground.

    4. Police provoked violence/crimes. I did some student teaching in a High School which shall remain unnamed and the MO of the high school police was to find the 'troublemakers' smoking cigarettes across from the school or in the alleyways surrounding and set up a cop car on one side of them and try to herd them towards it, if they ran they tried to take them down with tackling and submission holds. The kids got suspended and charged with resisting arrest at the very least some got thrown in Juvi all for smoking a cig and being confronted by a dickish bunch of cops.

  • Re:Just hope... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:19AM (#31871522) Journal
    Do you think that there is any realistic chance that having a Respected Criminologist(who knows how to wear a suit that makes him look like a respected authority figure; but not a pointy-headed academic) tell the jury that the Totally Trustworthy and Extremely Sophisticated Computer System has determined that the punk-ass kid currently in the dock before you is an incipient menace won't be a completely standard part of prosecution down there within a few years?

    Despite the combined efforts of virtually every major consumer software vendor, Joe Public still somehow trusts computers and thinks of them as authoritative. DAs and prosecutors will absolutely eat that shit up, as will jurors.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:22AM (#31871554)

    The purpose is not to predict guilt in the innocent, it is to assess the threat of individuals already proven guilty. If you carefully read the article, they are applying this predictive analytics software to children that have already committed an offence - the 85,000 kids that enter the Florida Juvenile Justice system each year because of criminal actions.

    If they start to apply this to all children, then yes we have a problem. At present, they are just trying to sort the existing offenders by threat of re-offence so as to work on correcting the behaviour of those kids at greatest risk to re-offend. This is a laudable goal, and if it helps to reduce the risk of re-offence then they have my support.

    In the interest of full disclosure, when I was a kid I got in with a bad group and ended up getting charged with shoplifting. The system at the time (20 years ago) didn't do anything substantial to try and prevent the chances of my re-offending. I was simply lucky that my parents reacted appropriately and put me on the right path. Some of the kids I was hanging around with weren't so lucky, and they went on to bigger and badder crimes. I would have been right there with them if I hadn't had a firm support system guiding me.

    In those cases where the parents of a young offender will not step up, I think it is society's responsibility to act. To me, this software is part of that solution.

  • by jayhawk88 ( 160512 ) <> on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:24AM (#31871582)

    Gizmodo links this technology to Minority Report, and certainly not without cause, but the movie that really ought to worry you here is Gattaca. What happens to kids this software flags with a high potential for future criminal activity? If companies start taking this data seriously, a lot of them won't be hiring these kids. And while it was genetics that was the profiling mechanism in Gattaca, considering we've already cracked the human genome, it can only be a matter of time before someone decides to take a similar piece of software and run it against someone's DNA.

  • by thijsh ( 910751 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:33AM (#31871726) Journal
    Don't be sarcastic... I work exactly in this line of work, and we use the above identifiers A-D (and others) to determine if a child is at risk of developing social and psychological problems... when a child has an indication they can give them help, and since this is a rough pre-selection they can start with very non-invasive projects at the school. It's exactly to prevent some children from falling trough the cracks and only getting help when they are a troubled (criminal) teen, because it's become a problem for them and society by then.
    br We have a professor at the university working on the data to check what indications we can use best (and SPSS is widely used for finding those correlations). When the professor is done my programmer collegues and me will build an online tool that will help professionals to quickly gage if there is a reason why a child could develop problems (this is tough to do by hand since it can be surprizingly counter-intuitive).
  • by oakbox ( 414095 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:34AM (#31871732) Homepage

    This was almost attempted in the early 70's. Look up the "Hartman Value Profile". It was shot down in flames, I guess the concept of Civil Rights has changed a bit since then . . .

  • Re:Just hope... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mister Whirly ( 964219 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @10:55AM (#31872038) Homepage
    Just think - if England would have had a technology similar to this in the 18th century, it would have "discovered" all the rebellious founding fathers, and America never would have had a chance to earn it's freedom. The potential for heinous abuse by the government of this system far outweighs any benefit it may offer. Shame on you IBM. Again.
  • Re:Overblown (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @11:41AM (#31872654)

    They should be looking at the external causes that make them act this way, if you're analysing those kids than you're already assuming that they're in some way defective or sad.

    What are you talking about? They aren't testing the kids DNA. They are analyzing the behavior and environment of a child. Those are the externalities. Further, who said anything about blame? This is about rehabilitation for kids who have committed crimes.

    Blame the parents not the children.

    Blame them both and hold both legally accountable, just as we do now, based upon age and level of independence. When a 4 year old shoplifts, the parents are held entirely to blame and might even lose custody. When a 17 year old goes on a murder spree, having already killed his parents at the age of 8, and having lived in a good home since then, well we largely hold the child to blame. Most everything else is a sliding scale in between. This is all about finding the best programs for the kids who need them the most and who will benefit the most. Computers don't blame anyone, they just crunch the numbers and tell judges, statistically, what is most likely to result in better results.

    It seems some sort of ingrained cultural relic that criminal sentencing is about blame. But if there is one situation where blame should be a tertiary concern, it is delinquent children. Fuck blame! Do what is best for the child and worry about blaming people only if it does not interfere with that goal.

  • by Paladin2ez ( 619723 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @12:02PM (#31872882)

    This thing is a tool, just like most of the other ones that are out there. Your insurance (for pretty much anything, auto, life, house, etc.) use the same basic principle. You take the big factors, sort them out into groups, and then figure out the relative risk.

    You're young, male, and single? Guess what, on average, you've got a better chance of being in a car accident. Live in Florida? On average, you've got a better chance of having a house being blown away by a hurricane. There's data support all of it, but you've got to remember that it's a mathematical predictor, which doesn't mean it's always true.

    The real question is what the heck are they going to do after the risks are tabulated? As a post mentioned before, it seems that it may be used for sentencing guidelines, but I hope that's just a small part. If you can find out the groups of at-risk youth, and then do something (like spend money on programs and other things that will encourage those youth to not commit crime (I know, far cry of concept for our elected officials)), then the system is worth it. Prevention of crime doesn't always mean that the police are directly involved. Rather, they should be the last resort.

    And as to "real time", it's about as real time (if they're using most modern analytical software) as the data they get in. Ask someone in insurance how quickly they get data in (bonus points if you can find out the differences in time for various coverages).

    PS - I love the idea about using this for politicians, and comparing polls in their represented area to their voting history. I'd bet a lot of them wouldn't like that brought up.

  • FTA

    And why should the government decide who goes to an specific prevention program or who doesn't based on what a computer says? The fact is that, even if the software was 99.99% accurate, there will be always an innocent person who will be F***ed. And that is exactly why we have something called due process and the presumption of innocence. That's why those things are not only in the United States Constitution, but in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights too.

    Nice rant and straw man. They're not talking about throwing these kids in jail. Instead, targetting people at higher risk of following a criminal path, and giving them extra efforts to steer them from that path.

    ISure. Some will argue that these juvenile delinquents were already convicted for other crimes, so hey, there's no harm. This software will help prevent further crimes. It will make all of us safer? But would it? Where's the guarantee of that? Why does the state have to assume that criminal behavior is a given?

    Why would you naively assume that criminal behavior is no more likely among a population so identified than among the rest of the population? They're not just throwing allof the state's youth into the system to churn out who the "defectives" are. These are people who have a) already started down a criminal path or b) come from homes so screwed up that they had to be removed for their own safety. Statistically, both of these groups have a considerably reduced chance of a normal life. If there's a reliable means of figuring out which subset of those groups are more prone than others, and to take active steps to help them prevent it, why would you not do it? Why would you don the rose-colored glasses and pretend that they can just step out of Juvie and lead a fully normal life, when the odds are stacked against it?

    Ok, I've got my flame-retardant suit on. Let's have it...

  • by Grizzled Old Scout ( 1248100 ) on Friday April 16, 2010 @02:36PM (#31875022) Homepage
    The subtext of this is people's natural inclination to trust and believe in -- and certainly do not question -- authority figures. The reason so many reflexively think that a defendant is guilty is because, hey, if he hadn't done anything wrong, the police & DA wouldn't have brought him up on charges, now would they?

    Ugly truth of the day: Most people's natural predispositions are not compatible with a free, open society. This is why civil liberties can so easily be eroded away.
  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday April 16, 2010 @03:07PM (#31875464) Homepage Journal

    Lets actually think about this instead of just coming up with reasons to force it into are preconceived notions.

    If there are a set of factors to indicate risk, then this can be a good thing.

    Steps can be taken to changing factors and reduce risk.

    For example: One factor could be determine by a lack of social skills. That child could be taught the normal social behaviours. Improving the child's life as an adult. No we are not talking about making everyone the same. Another example, there is a strong correlation between torturing animals and being a psychopath. If you find you child torturing animals, then you should get help for that child. Before you pound you meat stumps against the key board, I am not saying torturing animals causes it, only that it's a sign, so put away your misguided 'correlation is no causation' standard reply, it does not apply here.

    I know minority report is a fun comparison, but the movies response to 'pre-crime' is nonsense. Plus that's not what we are talking about.

The unfacts, did we have them, are too imprecisely few to warrant our certitude.