China has developed an AI “prosecutor” that can charge citizens with crimes with “97 per cent accuracy” (Irish Times 08/01/22)…
It was one of the days when I was missing home.
I loved China, to where I had moved four years earlier to teach English, but sometimes I found myself yearning for persistent drizzle, black pudding, and the clack of pool balls in an afternoon pub.
On such days I would watch old episodes of Mrs Brown’s Boys to cure myself, which is why I was sitting at my laptop on that Saturday afternoon.
Suddenly the screen flickered. Mrs Brown’s gurning face vanished and another woman’s appeared, more beautiful but somehow more frightening. I thought it was an advertisement of some sort until she spoke.
“Good afternoon,” she said. “My name is Khione. I am the State Prosecutor.”
I frowned. This was not going to end well.
The new AI prosecutor had been in service for over six months now, with largely good results. Using a combination of street cameras, facial recognition software and state-legalized hacking it had virtually wiped out road traffic offences, muggings, and computer fraud. The country was undoubtedly a safer place.
But there had been some problems. A gust of wind flicking a camera had led to a cow in the field opposite being fined for speeding. A man called Zhang Yu had been accused of impersonating another man named Zhang Yu. An Anglican vicar had been charged with White Collar Crime.
And those wrongly indicted could not get a solicitor, all of who had been charged with soliciting.
The system had improved, though, so I was mystified as to why this face was now on my screen. I decided to try to be friendly.
“Hello,” I said. “Why are you called Khione?”
The woman’s lip curled. “I thought you would know that, Mister Teacher,” she said. “It is the name of the Greek Goddess of Justice.”
“The Goddess of Justice is Themis,” I replied. “Khione is the Goddess of -” I nodded as I saw the problem – “just Ice.”
Khione’s face froze, appropriately, just for a second. Then the screen bounced, as if she had shrugged. “Whatever,” she said.
“And what can I do for you?”
“You stand accused of a crime,” said Khione. “Your documents say that you are a hooligan.”
“They say I’m A. Hooli-han“, I retorted. “My name is Andrew Hoolihan.”
Khione’s eyes looked upward, as if she was going over something in her head. Again the screen shrugged. “Meh,” she said. “It’s close enough.”
“No, it isn’t,” I said. “i plead not guilty.”
Khione looked calmly back at me. “I have genuinely no idea what that sentence means,” she said.
“But you’re wrong,” I said.
“Only three per cent of the time,” said Khione. “Can you say the same of your own justice system?”
I thought back to cases I’d heard of in Ireland, of criminals freed on technicalities, of minor Social Welfare fraud punished by jail sentences, of massive tax evasion met merely with fines.
“Er, no,” I said, “but -”
“Exactly,” said Khione. “I find you guilty. The fine is one thousand yuan” – this was about one hundred and forty euro – “and is payable immediately.”
I sighed. “Ok,” I said, “I suppose I’ll just have to -”
“So I will pay it into your bank now.”
“The fine will be paid straight away. That is the law.”
“O-k,” I said slowly. “Do you need my bank details?”
Khione looked almost sorrowfully at me. “I’m in your computer,” she said simply.
“True,” I said. “I just want to be sure you have the correct -”
“As I told you, Mr Hooligan,” said Khione, “I make almost no mistakes.”