Comment Blog 23 November, 2017

Applications of responsible AI: opportunities for policing

Policing is on the cusp of a revolution with the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Considering its transformative potential, ensuring the responsible use of AI is one of the most important questions for policing today.

This was the key message at a Reform roundtable last week, led by Chief Constable, Essex Police and NPCC Chair, Digital Policing Board, Steven Kavanagh and held in partnership with Accenture. The event gathered experts from across policing, policy and academia to discuss how best to capitalise on the opportunities and mitigate the risks of AI, allowing for its sustainable and responsible application moving forward.

Attendees agreed that AI has three kinds of potential. First, AI can manage the mundane. Police spend significant time on administrative tasks, writing up cases and recording information, often on slow computers. AI can assist police with these repetitive activities, enabling them to spend more time ‘on the beat’, dealing with complex crimes and working to create safer communities.

Second, sophisticated AI technology can aid decision-making. As the volume of data expands, AI has the capacity to turn this data into meaningful information. A police car heading to a crime scene, for example, could use AI systems to understand the demands to which they must respond, based on trends in the data. By managing this increasingly complex data, AI can support police to make better strategic decisions, and therefore achieve better outcomes for citizens.

Third, AI can police the virtual world. As a recent report by Reform identified, police must embrace new technologies to combat rising cybercrime. AI is part of this solution. Its speed and hyper degree of precision makes it the perfect tool to patrol virtual spaces, and identify and moderate transgressions online.

To win popular support, attendees agreed that AI must pass several ‘responsibility tests’ before policing, and the rest of society, can enjoy its potential. Firstly, AI requires the right kind of regulation to ensure it is properly accountable for its decisions. Secondly, police forces need to address the concern that AI will suffer from human biases, which could lead to continued discrimination against certain communities. Thirdly, decisions must be transparent to the public to ensure trust and legitimacy, two cornerstones of policing, continue to be upheld. Lastly, the police workforce needs to be ready. Imaginative solutions must be developed to encourage change, re-skill the workforce and help police embrace AI sustainably.

Leadership is crucial to overcoming these ‘responsibility tests’. According to the roundtable, leaders are obliged to take ownership of the risks that accompany AI. It is their responsibility to challenge claims in the tabloid press that AI will result in robots ‘replac[ing] the masses’, and instead prove that AI can unlock a wealth of opportunities. Encouragingly, leaders in the policing world are rising to this challenge. By working in partnerships with each other, and other stakeholders, they are developing solutions to foster the responsible growth of AI.

Police forces do not need to act alone in confronting these challenges. AI is set to be a powerful force across the public sector and different public services can learn from each other to encourage its responsible development.