The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy serves as the hub of the Harvard Kennedy School’s research, teaching, and training in the human rights domain. The center embraces a dual mission: to educate students and the next generation of leaders from around the world in human rights policy and practice; and to convene and provide policy-relevant knowledge to international organizations, governments, policymakers, and businesses.
Over the summer, while announcing the disbanding of a controversial plainclothes unit of the New York City Police Department after weeks of Black Lives Matter protests, Police Commissioner Dermot Shea referred to the need for “21st-century policing” that would use a range of technological tools—ShotSpotter (a sensor system that estimates the location of gunfire), video, DNA, and more—instead of “brute force.” Reliance on such technologies could become the norm as calls for police reform—in particular, the defunding of the police—take root around the country. However, making such changes without adequate public oversight could result in Black people being surveilled and controlled even further.
This paper was prepared for an interdisciplinary conference on Gefährliche Forschung? (Dangerous Science?) held at the University of Cologne in February 2020 and is scheduled to appear in a volume of contributions from that event edited by Wilfried Hinsch and Susanne Brandstätter, the organizers, and to be published by de Gruyter. The paper delves into the question proposed to me—might population genetics or artificial intelligence undermine philosophical ideas about equality—without locating the context of this debate or offering a preview of its contents. The first section discusses the ideal of equality, the next two talk about genetics in the context of responses to racism, and the remaining two speak about possible changes that might come from the development of general Artificial Intelligence.
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The criminal justice system in the U.S. has over-incarcerated its citizen base; we have 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prison population. America became known as the “incarceration nation” because our prison and jail population exploded from less than 200,000 in 1972 to 2.2 million today, which became a social phenomenon known as mass incarceration. And along the way, there was a subsequent boom in querying databases for data on citizens with criminal records.
Once a person comes in contact with the U.S. criminal justice system, they begin to develop an arrest and/or conviction record. This record includes data aggregated from various databases mostly, if not exclusively, administered by affiliated government agencies. As the prison population grew, the number of background check companies rose as well. The industry has grown and continues to do so with very little motivation to wrestle with morality, data integrity standards, or the role of individual rights.
This paper address the urgent need to look towards a future where background screening decisions and artificial intelligence collide.
“The Carr Center is building a bridge between ideas on human rights and the practice on the ground. Right now we are at a critical juncture. The pace of technological change and the rise of authoritarian governments are both examples of serious challenges to the flourishing of individual rights. It’s crucial that Harvard and the Kennedy School continue to be a major influence in keeping human rights ideals alive. The Carr Center is a focal point for this important task.”
- Mathias Risse