Man spent almost a year in jail due to erroneous AI-based evidence


Artificial intelligence can power autonomous vehicles or help create safer computing platforms. However, in some cases, an innocent person can go to jail due to questionable evidence based on AI data. This is exactly what happened to 65-year-old Michael Williams when he was arrested last August on charges of killing a young man in riot, the Associated Press reported.


In 2018, the city of Chicago signed a $ 33 million contract with ShotSpotter to install a surveillance network that uses a special AI-based algorithm to identify and triangulate shots. It is because of this technology that Williams got into trouble on Sunday night, May 31, 2020.


Late in the evening, Williams made the decision to buy cigarettes from a local gas station, but upon arrival discovered that the store had been looted during the riots. Then he decided to just go home when he spotted 25-year-old Safarian Herring on the way, who gestured for him to go for a walk. Soon a car stopped next to them at an intersection. An unidentified passenger attempted to shoot Williams, but missed and hit Herring. On June 2, 2020, Herring died at the Saint Bernard Hospital.


Three months later, the police came to Williams. He was interrogated and placed in a pre-trial detention center on charges of first-degree murder. ShotSpotter video surveillance data became the evidence of the crime. That night, ShotSpotter's sensors detected a loud noise and alerted the police. This "evidence" was used to reinforce the prosecution's theory that Williams shot Herring in his car, although the investigation did not reveal any motive, eyewitness, or the murder weapon.


It was later revealed that the ShotSpotter system initially identified the noise as an explosion of fireworks with a 98% probability. However, a company employee, after listening to the audio file, marked the noise as a shot. In addition, during post-processing, the algorithm changed the location of the noise source.


Williams was imprisoned for approximately 11 months, where he twice contracted coronavirus infection (COVID-19) and developed uncontrollable tremors. After this long stay away from home, Williams entered the courtroom, where Judge Vincent Gaughan dropped the case for lack of evidence. Thus, Williams was finally able to get out of Cook County Jail on the evening of July 23 as a free man.

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