Britain Is Developing an AI-Powered Predictive Policing System

The tantalizing prospect of predicting crime before it happens has got law enforcement agencies excited about AI. Most efforts so far have focused on forecasting where and when crime will happen, but now British police want to predict who will perpetrate it.

The idea is reminiscent of sci-fi classic Minority Report, where clairvoyant “precogs” were used to predict crime before it happened and lock up the would-be criminals. The National Data Analytics Solution (NDAS) under development in the UK will instead rely on AI oracles to scour police records and statistics to find those at risk of violent crime.

Machine learning will be used to analyze a variety of local and national police databases containing information like crime logs, stop and search records, custody records, and missing person reports. In particular, it’s aimed at identifying those at risk of committing or becoming a victim of gun or knife crime, and those who could fall victim to modern slavery.

The program is being led by West Midlands Police (WMP), which covers the cities of Birmingham, Coventry, and Wolverhampton, but the aim is for it to eventually be used by every UK police force. They will produce a prototype by March of 2019.

What police would do with the information has yet to be determined. The head of WMP told New Scientist they won’t be preemptively arresting anyone; instead, the idea would be to use the information to provide early intervention from social or health workers to help keep potential offenders on the straight and narrow or protect potential victims.

But data ethics experts have voiced concerns that the police are stepping into an ethical minefield they may not be fully prepared for. Last year, WMP asked researchers at the Alan Turing Institute’s Data Ethics Group to assess a redacted version of the proposal, and last week they released an ethics advisory in conjunction with the Independent Digital Ethics Panel for Policing.

While the authors applaud the force for attempting to develop an ethically sound and legally compliant approach to predictive policing, they warn that the ethical principles in the proposal are not developed enough to deal with the broad challenges this kind of technology could throw up, and that “frequently the details are insufficiently fleshed out and important issues are not fully recognized.”

The genesis of the project appears to be a 2016 study carried out by data scientists for WMP that used statistical modeling to analyze local and national police databases to identify 32 indicators that could predict those likely to persuade others to commit crimes. These were then used to generate a list of the top 200 “influencers” in the region, which the force said could be used to identify those vulnerable to being drawn into criminality.

The ethics review notes that this kind of approach raises serious ethical questions about undoing the presumption of innocence and allowing people to be targeted even if they’ve never committed an offense and potentially never would have done so.

Similar approaches tested elsewhere in the world highlight the pitfalls of this kind of approach. Chicago police developed an algorithmically-generated list of people at risk of being involved in a shooting for early intervention. But a report from RAND Corporation showed that rather than using it to provide social services, police used it as a way to target people for arrest. Despite that, it made no significant difference to the city’s murder rate.

Its also nearly inevitable this kind of system will be at risk of replicating the biases that exist in traditional policing. If police disproportionately stop and search young black men, any machine learning system trained on those records will reflect that bias.

A major investigation by ProPublica in 2016 found that software widely used by courts in the US to predict whether someone would offend again, and therefore guide sentencing, was biased against blacks. Its not a stretch to assume that AI used to profile potential criminals would face similar problems.

Bias isn’t the only problem. As the ACLU’s Ezekiel Edwards notes, the data collected by police is simply bad. It’s incomplete, inconsistent, easily manipulated, and slow, and as with all machine learning, rubbish in equals rubbish out. But if you’re using the output of such a system to intervene ahead of whatever you’re predicting, it’s incredibly hard to asses how accurate it is.

All this is unlikely to stem the appetite for these kinds of systems, though. Police around the world are dealing with an ever-changing and increasingly complex criminal landscape (and in the UK, budget cuts too) so any tools that promise to make their jobs easier are going to seem attractive. Let’s just hope that agencies follow the lead of WMP and seek out independent oversight of their proposals.


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RESEARCH: UK CRYPTO INVESTORS’ LACK OF KNOWLEDGE IS ‘VERY CONCERNING’

Recent research from IW Capital found that 38 percent of the British population do not “understand” cryptocurrency. Furthermore, a mere 5 percent of those cryptocurrency investors polled have actually turned a profit — a fact the investment house’s CEO finds “very concerning.”

A FUNDAMENTAL LACK OF INFORMATION OR KNOWLEDGE

British investors do not understand cryptocurrency, according to recent research from IW Capital. The Mayfair-based SME investment house shared the research with Express.co.uk.

The report surmises that the vast majority of the UK investing community finds investing in cryptocurrency to be a worse decision than investing in traditional markets.

The investment house polled 2,0007 respondents, 38 percent of which said they do not understand cryptocurrency. Additionally, one-third of respondents are under the impression that the supposed bitcoin bubble will soon burst, while a mere 7 percent believe cryptocurrency investments are better those made through traditional channels.

According to the research, only 5 percent of cryptocurrency investors have turned a profit — a statistic likely skewed by the fact that more than 2.5 million Brits have “casually invested in cryptocurrency without fully understanding the investment.” (Which is the fastest way to lose money, especially in a bear market.)

FAILURE TO SEEK FINANCIAL ADVICE

Indeed, it is the fundamental lack of knowledge which is largely responsible for the aforementioned results. According to IW Capital:

The data reveals that, fundamentally, Brits do not have enough information or knowledge on the topic of cryptocurrency. In fact, many have no knowledge about the subject whatsoever. Losses have also been compounded by failing to take proper investment precautions, such as consulting a financial advisor. The investment house also noted:

Despite a widespread dearth of knowledge surrounding this particular asset class, disconcertingly, 1 in 20 Brits – nearly 3 million – have invested in cryptocurrency without fully understanding it, with only 5 percent having taken advice from a financial adviser when investing in cryptocurrencies.

Only 5 percent of those who have invested in cryptocurrency have made financial gains. 11.5 million have failed to make a financial gain when investing in a cryptocurrency.
London School of Economics to Offer Online Cryptocurrency Course

IW Capital CEO Luke Davis also told Express.co.uk that the results of the research are “very concerning,” explaining:

It is shocking, but not surprising, to see so much confusion around the topic of cryptocurrency. I do not believe this is a reflection of UK investors’ risk profile, as a positive appetite for alternative finance remains, but to see that investments have been made without proper financial advice and a lack of facts and education is very concerning.
This news might not come as much of a surprise, however, as the number of first-time investors into the cryptocurrency space during the holiday season’s ‘bubble phase’ has been well-documented. Many of those who jumped aboard the bitcoin bandwagon in December have since gotten rekt and shaken out of the market.

The results are also further proof that one should always do his or her own research and due diligence before investing in cryptocurrency, and should never invest more than he or she can afford to lose.


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UK Lawmakers Recommend Tougher Laws on Facebook

The U.K. government should increase oversight of social media like Facebook and election campaigns to protect democracy in the digital age, a parliamentary committee has recommended in a scathing report on fake news, data misuse and interference by Russia.

The interim report by the House of Commons’ media committee to be released Sunday said democracy is facing a crisis because the combination of data analysis and social media allows campaigns to target voters with messages of hate without their consent.

Tech giants like Facebook, which operate in a largely unregulated environment, are complicit because they haven’t done enough to protect personal information and remove harmful content, the committee said.

“The light of transparency must be allowed to shine on their operations and they must be made responsible, and liable, for the way in which harmful and misleading content is shared on their sites,”

committee Chairman Damian Collins said in a statement.

The study was due to be published Sunday, but a copy was leaked on Friday by Dominic Cummings, the director of the official campaign group backing Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Social media companies are under scrutiny worldwide following allegations that political consultant Cambridge Analytica used data from tens of millions of Facebook accounts to profile voters and help U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. The committee is also investigating the impact of fake news distributed via social media sites.

Collins ripped Facebook for allowing Russian agencies to use its platform to spread disinformation and influence elections.

“I believe what we have discovered so far is the tip of the iceberg,” he said, adding that more work needs to be done to expose how fake accounts target people during elections. “The ever-increasing sophistication of these campaigns, which will soon be helped by developments in augmented reality technology, make this an urgent necessity.”

The committee recommended that the British government increase the power of the Information Commissioner’s Office to regulate social media sites, update electoral laws to reflect modern campaign techniques, and increase the transparency of political advertising on social media.

Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to address the issue in a so-called White Paper to be released in the fall. She signaled her unease last year, accusing Russia of meddling in elections and planting fake news to sow discord in the West.

The committee began its work in January 2017, interviewing 61 witnesses during 20 hearings that took on an investigatory tone not normally found in such forums in the House of Commons.

The report criticized Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg for failing to appear before the panel and said his stand-ins were “unwilling or unable to give full answers to the committee’s questions.”

One of the committee’s recommendations is that the era of light-touch regulation for social media must come to an end.

Social media companies can no longer avoid oversight by describing themselves as platforms, because they use technology to filter and shape the information users see. Nor are they publishers, since that model traditionally commissions and pays for content.

“We recommend that a new category of tech company is formulated, which tightens tech companies’ liabilities, and which is not necessarily either a ‘platform’ or a ‘publisher,” the report said. “We anticipate that the government will put forward these proposals in its White Paper later this year.”

The committee also said that the Information Commissioner’s Office needs more money so it can hire technical experts to be the “sheriff in the Wild West of the internet.” The funds would come from a levy on the tech companies, much in the same way as the banks pay for the upkeep of the Financial Conduct Authority.

“Our democracy is at risk, and now is the time to act, to protect our shared values and the integrity of our democratic institutions,” the committee said.


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UK-EU customs partnership ‘still on table’

A new “customs partnership” with the EU – which is fiercely opposed by some Tory Brexiteers – is still on the table, the business secretary says.

Greg Clark warned about the effect of border checks on manufacturing jobs, saying whatever replaces the customs union was of “huge importance”.

He added whichever option was chosen would “take some time” to put in place.
Euro sceptic backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg criticised “Project Fear” warnings about job losses after Brexit.

He said if the partnership model was adopted, “we would not in effect be leaving the European Union”.

But Mr Clark was supported by former home secretary Amber Rudd, while Remain-supporting Tories criticised pro-Brexit “ideologues”, saying they did not represent the party at large.

All EU members are part of the customs union, within which there are no internal tariffs (taxes) on goods transported between them. There is also a common tariff agreed on goods entering from outside.

The UK government has said it is leaving the EU customs union so that it can strike its own trade deals around the world, something it cannot do as a member. But ministers have not yet agreed how to replace it.

The UK is under pressure to make progress on the issue before next month’s EU summit.

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Clark’s Toyota warning

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Clark said the UK would leave the customs union in 2019 with Brexit, and that finding the right replacement was of “huge importance”, pointing to the needs of manufacturers like Toyota to avoid friction at the borders.

At last week’s Brexit sub-committee meeting of senior ministers, several are believed to have voiced concerns about one of the two options put forward by the government – whereby Britain would collect tariffs on behalf of the EU for goods destined for member states.

Mr Clark said the ministers had had “a much more professional, collegiate discussion” than reports suggested.

And he said the partnership proposal had not been killed off, saying it offered the “very important” feature of avoiding paperwork at UK-EU borders.

But he added that this model was “not perfect” because arrangements would be needed to refund firms if they were only liable for lower UK rates.

He said this, and an alternative proposal of using technology and advanced checks to minimise border disruption, needed “further work”, and that whichever was chosen, “it will take some time to have them put in place and available”.

The business secretary said it was “possible” this could take two or three years after the UK leaves the EU, suggesting that different elements of the plan could be implemented at different times.

Former home secretary Amber Rudd – who resigned last Sunday over a deportations row – backed Mr Clark’s comments.

Ms Rudd, a leading voice in the 2016 campaign to stay in the EU, tweeted that the business secretary was “quite right” to argue for a “Brexit that protects existing jobs and future investment”.

Amber Rudd MP

✔ @AmberRuddHR

@GregClarkMP quite right, making the case clearly and yes, passionately, for a Brexit that protects existing jobs and future investment #marr
9:55 AM – May 6, 2018

The government’s two customs options

A ‘highly streamlined’ customs arrangement – This would minimise customs checks rather than getting rid of them altogether, by using new technologies and things like trusted trader schemes, which could allow companies to pay duties in bulk every few months rather than every time their goods cross a border.

A customs partnership – This would remove the need for new customs checks at the border. The UK would collect tariffs set by the EU customs union on goods coming into the UK on behalf of the EU. If those goods didn’t leave the UK and UK tariffs on them were lower, companies could then claim back the difference.

Opposition from Brexiteers

Mrs May has been repeatedly urged by Brexiteers to abandon the partnership option, which critics say would keep the UK tied to EU rules.

One observer was quoted saying it would be “unimaginable for the prime minister to press on with the hybrid model after it has been torn apart by members of her own Brexit committee”.

Speaking on ITV’s Peston on Sunday, influential backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg – who has previously labelled the proposal “cretinous” – dismissed warnings about the impact on jobs if it is rejected.

“This Project Fear has been so thoroughly discredited that you would have thought it would have come to an end by now,” he said.

“We will have control of goods coming into this country – we will set our own laws, our own policies, our own regulations, and therefore we will determine how efficient the border is coming into us.”

The customs debate is central to the question of border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, with supporters of a customs union saying anything else will mean checks and a “hard border”.

But Arlene Foster, who leads the Democratic Unionist Party, said a “free flow” of trade did not require a customs union, adding that a border was already in place between the two different jurisdictions.

However, some pro-EU Tories are still pushing for much closer economic ties to the EU.
Asked about Mr Rees-Mogg and other Brexiteers, former education secretary Nicky Morgan told Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Radio 5 live people who “shout loudest” did not necessarily represent the majority of Conservatives.

She said Tory rebels on her side of the debate would be prepared to defy the party whip in key votes “in the national interest” but that the MPs who were “sabre-rattling about leadership” were those who wanted “the hardest of hard Brexits”.

And ex-business minister Anna Soubry told The Sunday Politics Mrs May had to “see off” those who operate a “party within a party” who do not represent “the country at large”.
“These are ideologues,” she added.

The CBI welcomed Mr Clark’s commitment to “frictionless” trade, saying the customs union should remain in place “unless and until an alternative is ready and workable”.

Labour Brexit splits

Labour, meanwhile, faced criticism of its position on Brexit from pro-EU voices in the party.
The leadership was accused of “complete cowardice” by Labour peer Lord Alli for not supporting a Lords amendment aimed at keeping the UK within the European Economic Area (EEA), like Norway, after Brexit.

EEA members get access to the single market – with free movement of people, goods, service and money – without being EU members.

But shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner said such an arrangement would reduce the UK to being a “rule taker” without a seat at the table when decisions on regulations are made.

Labour says it would seek to draw up a new customs union with the EU after Brexit, and would try to persuade Brussels to change the rules and allow it to strike deals around the world.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the Marr show that despite the criticism, the party had not lost votes by not being “anti-Brexit” or “trying to reverse the referendum”.
“What people want is a traditional British compromise,” he said.

“Respect the referendum result, but get the best deal you can to protect our economy and protect our jobs.

 


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