Forensic experts have sounded the alarm bells after trying out an AI police forensic sketch application. Forensic Sketch AI-rtist was created recently by two developers using the Dall-E platform. By inputting a series of parameters and selecting different options from dropdown menus, the program will then generate a sketch of the person based on the description.
Just like Dalle-E, this software can generate very realistic photo-like images. However, experts have voiced considerable concern, citing problems with gender and race bias, and have called it “incredibly dangerous”.
The software was created by Artur Fortunato and Filipe Reynaud as part of a hackathon in December 2022. They claim that the point is to speed up the process of creating an accurate forensic sketch of a suspect. Something that usually takes around two to three hours.
The program asks users to input different facial features and skin tones with a final option of a text description. The software then uses Dall-E to generate a photorealistic image of the suspect. At the moment, it’s only in prototype and hasn’t been rolled out to any users. “We’re planning on reaching out to police departments in order to have input data that we can test this on,” say the developers.
However, as we have already seen, AI already incorporates a considerable amount of gender and racial biases. That’s something that concerns leading forensic experts, as witnesses are already hampered by existing prejudices.
“The problem is that any forensic sketch is already subject to human biases and the frailty of human memory,” Jennifer Lynch, the Surveillance Litigation Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Vice. “AI can’t fix those human problems, and this particular program will likely make them worse through its very design.”
In fact, the only problem that this AI program seems to be solving is the time frame. Two to three hours to produce a police sketch doesn’t seem so long in the greater scheme of things, particularly if it prevents innocent people from being arrested.
“Research has shown that humans remember faces holistically, not feature-by-feature. A sketch process that relies on individual feature descriptions like this AI program can result in a face that’s strikingly different from the perpetrator’s,” Lynch says. “Unfortunately, once the witness sees the composite, that image may replace in their minds their hazy memory of the actual suspect. This is only exacerbated by an AI-generated image that looks more ‘real’ than a hand-drawn sketch.”
People of racial minorities are already up to five times more likely to be stopped and questioned by police than their counterparts. This is not a unique problem to the USA but is found consistently across other countries as well. Facial recognition software already has problems distinguishing between people of color, with one man being jailed for a crime he didn’t commit when he was at least 7 hours away at the time of the robbery.
It’s certainly an interesting time that we are living in regarding the rise of AI use. However, we mustn’t blithely assume that using AI will make things better necessarily.
Cover image credit: Screenshot of forensic sketch AI-rtist by Sasha Luccioni
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