We’ve always used human intelligence to solve crimes, but without some of the amazing technology that has been developed over hundreds of years, many more crimes today would go unsolved. It wasn’t too long ago that even fingerprinting was a new technology—and a painstaking process that required manual comparison.
Today, we take automated fingerprint comparison, rapid DNA testing, and other tools for granted. We watch shows about forensics for entertainment. But the technological march in forensics is far from over. Here’s what we can expect from artificial intelligence (AI) and its role in preventing and solving crimes of the future.
New Tech, New Criminals
As our technological abilities advance, criminals will always take advantages of weaknesses and opportunities they can profit from. Before the Internet, of course, cybercrime wasn’t even a possibility. Today, it costs the global economy hundreds of billions each year.
With new tech, therefore, comes new criminals. Smartphones, IoT devices like smart home locks, and other new consumer and commercial devices offer cybercriminals a lot of new opportunities.
Not all cybercrimes involve money or identity theft—some are more abstract and cultural. A good example of this was the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook that compromised the information of 90 million users and lost the company $80 billion in value.
With consumers more aware than ever of the value of their data and privacy issues, law enforcement needs new tools to fight these new crimes. That’s where AI can help—by using modern tools to solve modern crimes.
Forensics’ Role in Justice
To many people, the terms “forensics” and “criminal justice” are interchangeable. But forensics plays a different and distinct role in law enforcement. Criminal justice is the umbrella for several different branches within the field, while forensics focuses on the evidence involved in a crime in order to solve it. In forensics, scientists tell the story of the crime through evidence, both physical and digital.
Within the field of forensics, there are sub-specialties, like forensic psychology, forensic nursing, forensic anthropology, and now, digital forensics. Forensic scientists in different specialties often work together to solve crimes. For instance, a forensic psychologist and a digital forensics expert might work together to determine the perpetrator in a cybercrime, with the psychologist also trying to determine why the criminal might have committed the crime.
Have No Fear, AI is Here!
AI’s role in forensics is fairly new, but it’s growing quickly. How? Mainly by automating some of the time-consuming tasks forensic experts must do to piece together the evidence, making the processing of evidence much more efficient. It can also spot patterns in huge datasets, a task that is hugely inefficient and often impossible for humans to do.
One example of the ways law enforcement is using AI is by training it to scan crime scene photos and compare them to similar photos, looking for links. Criminals that have committed crimes in the past often leave telltale signs that can be difficult to spot without the help of AI. Once a link is made, police can then follow up on the lead and determine if it is viable.
On the digital side of things, AI can scan photos and databases for potential criminal activity, such as signs of human trafficking. The algorithms used in both the open and “dark” web have shown a great deal of promise, so much so that agencies are now using them in searching for other types of illegal activity, such as narcotics and weapon sales.
There are often so many different factors, signs, and pieces of evidence that go into a crime—say, the suspect’s browser history, their communications with others, past behavior, and much, much more—that it can be difficult to piece it all together. That’s where AI excels in forensics: making complex connections.
Using AI Ethically in Forensics
Like any new technology, there are some concerns surrounding the use of AI in forensics. People are worried about privacy, facial recognition bias against people of different races and ages, and other ethical concerns.
Because this is a relatively new application for AI technology, very few guidelines or laws currently exist to guide enforcement agencies. While AI is proving to be a key asset for solving crimes in law enforcement, it is key that agencies use it in an ethical manner. What that means yet is not always clear.