Detroit Man Spends 30 Hours In Jail After AI Technology Misidentifies Him

Detroit Man Spends 30 Hours In Jail After AI Technology Misidentifies Him

AI technology is in the news again after a Detroit man spent 30 hours in jail after being misidentified as a subject in a pending criminal case.

In January 2020, Robert Williams, a Black man, was arrested in front of his wife and children for a robbery committed at a Shinola store in 2018. According to Newsweek, the store’s security cameras captured a suspect stealing watches who was not, in fact, Williams. Not only was he apprehended for the crime, he was not told what he was being arrested for until after his release 30 hours later. “The day I was arrested, I had no idea it was facial recognition,” Williams told Newsweek. “I was arrested for no reason.”

In the wake of Williams’ wrongful arrest, Chief of the Detroit Police Department, James E. White, issued a statement that read: “There are a number of checks and balances in place to ensure ethical use of facial recognition, including: use on live or recorded video is prohibited, supervisor oversight, and weekly and annual reporting to the Board of Police Commissioners on the use of the software.” Despite the reassurance from White and others, many experts fear that AI facial recognition will further exacerbate the same discriminatory and prejudicial practices that existed before the latest technological advancements.

In a study from Harvard University, Ph.D. candidate Alex Najibi argued that in the matter of fairness, Black people would, once again, be at risk. “In 18th century New York, ‘lantern laws’ required enslaved people to carry lanterns after dark to be publicly visible,” Najibi wrote. “Advocates fear that even if face recognition algorithms are made equitable, the technologies could be applied with the same spirit, disproportionately harming the Black community in line with existing racist patterns of law enforcement.”

Williams, who had his case dismissed without prejudice by the judge, is now suing the Detroit Police Department for the traumatizing experience he and his family had at their hands.