Now-dismissed AI audio “evidence” may have wrongfully sent a man to jail for a year

65-year old Michael Williams was recently from a year-long jail stint for insufficient AI audio “evidence”. Chicago police arrested the man for the murder of a local man during last year's George Floyd riots. However, the evidence behind Williams’ arrest was flimsy at best.

Reported by AP News, Williams gave the victim a ride “during a night of unrest over police brutality”. As he was driving a bullet from a car next to him is said to have shot through his window and hit his passenger. Williams was arrested for killing his passenger. The only evidence linking the man to the murder was decided by AI.

How does the AI audio work?

The AP report explains Williams' conviction hinged on the AI-powered evidence software ShotSpotter. The software uses AI algorithms to determine if there are gunshots present in a noisy scene. The algorithm isolates and compares sounds against its database of 14 million gunshot, or gunshot equivalent sounds. However, the software reportedly has “serious flaws”.

AP News’ investigation into the software discovered that its not guaranteed the algorithm will detect an actual gunshot. Oftentimes, gunshots fired next to ShotSpotter microphones aren't detected as actual gunshots. Furthermore, other loud sounds like fireworks are more than often picked up as gunshots. The company pushes its tech as almost foolproof.

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It's easy to manipulate

The investigation into the AI audio software discovered that there's an element of human bias to every use. Employees at ShotSpotter aiding the police can manipulate multiple aspects of the AI program.

AP News reveals that ShotSpotter employees “change the source of sounds picked up by its sensors after listening to audio recordings... [and] modify the location or number of shots fired at the request of police”.

On one hand,  human verification on a subject as important as a gunshot could be an important aspect to protecting the accused. On the other hand, the introduction of any human bias; a) could alter audio to seem more like a gunshot, and b) goes against the point of an impartial AI audio program.

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How Michael Williams feels

Upon discovering his passenger's injury, Williams went straight to the hospital. Three months later, the police interrogated Williams before throwing him in a holding cell.

“They just said that they were charging me with first-degree murder,” Williams told AP News. “When he told me that, it was just like something in me had just died.”

It took 11 months for Williams to released from jail over insufficient evidence. Over the course of his jail sentence, Williams had caught COVID twice. Additionally, he admitted that he planned to take his own life. Upon returning home, he couldn't even eat without assistance.

Williams spoke to AP News about his conviction. He said:

“I kept trying to figure out, how can they get away with using the technology like that against me? That’s not fair... these devices are [only] installed are in poor Black communities, nowhere else. How many of us will end up in this same situation?

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