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Opinion: no way reliance on algorithms promotes criminal justice

Although the oft-referenced rationale regarding the increasing use of one criminal justice system tool might be understandable -- and even commendable -- says a commentator in a recent online opinion piece, that doesn't make the growing practice right.

In fact, says criminal justice consultant Jason Tashea in an article penned for the online technology publication Wired, the pervasive use in courts of algorithms that judges use to help inform them on decisions involving bail and sentencing because they save time and help allocate limited resources is wrong.

Lacking proper safeguards, says Tashea, "these tools risk eroding the rule of law and diminishing individual rights."

And, the writer argues, those requisite safeguards are in perilously short supply.

What should bother every person who cares about justice, rationality and fundamental fairness in the criminal justice system, says Tashea, is that the artificial intelligence that algorithms rely upon -- which is becoming ever-more sophisticated and closer to the workings of the human brain -- cannot be easily controlled or explained.

As a result, there is increasing reliance upon it in the absence of really knowing how recommendations are reached.

In other words, transparency lacks, with a "hidden and always changing" neural network making it difficult for judges to truly come to informed decisions and for defense attorneys to adequately defend clients.

There doesn't seem to be much middle ground with the constantly evolving technology, argues Tashea: either we continue to forge ahead with it resolutely or we call a flat time out on it, disallowing its use in the justice system until we can ensure that "there are processes and procedure in place that allow for a meaningful examination of these tools."

If we don't take the latter course, Tashea contends, we blindly defer to machine intelligence and willingly surrender human discretion in critically important criminal law matters.

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