back to article US govt to use software to finger immigrants as potential crims? That's really dumb – boffins

A group of 54 computer scientists and academic researchers on Thursday asked the US Department of Homeland Security to rethink its plan for employing software algorithms to determine whether immigrants to the country should be admitted or deported. To implement various White House executive orders to limit immigration through …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Given that almost the entire US population consists of immigrants or descendants of immigrants it should be a very simple algorithm: guilty. Just accept a relatively few false positives and the job's done.

  2. Ledswinger Silver badge
    Pint

    Just accept a relatively few false positives and the job's done.

    How has that only got 21 upvotes in as many hours? Proof I suppose that there is no justice.

  3. P. Lee Silver badge

    >How has that only got 21 upvotes in as many hours? Proof I suppose that there is no justice.

    Perhaps not everyone thinks that the justice system outcomes are determined by "likes" and that virtue signaling is not yet compulsory.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The agency said it's looking for a system that allows it "to assess whether an applicant intends to commit criminal or terrorist acts after entering the United States.""

    Translation: Are you or have you ever been a member of the Muslim faith?

    Sure I have heard something like that before....

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    "Translation: Are you or have you ever been a member of the $Faith faith?"

    FTFY

    You forgot to allow for future growth options.

  6. Archtech Silver badge

    Re: "Translation: Are you or have you ever been a member of the $Faith faith?"

    Yes, it's always important to make software configurable at the design stage.

  7. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Facepalm

    "generate a minimum of 10,000 investigative leads annually"

    So instead of actually looking for terrorists they're going to 'create' 10,000 of them each year ?

  8. Kernel Silver badge

    Re: "generate a minimum of 10,000 investigative leads annually"

    "So instead of actually looking for terrorists they're going to 'create' 10,000 of them each year ?"

    Having spent the early part of my career in a public service role, I can tell you exactly what is happening here.

    Someone has had a rush of blood to the head and has subsequently managed to create a cushy job, probably a couple of grades above where they were, to manage the new department of "Terrorism Pre-Convictions*".

    In order to maintain the grade (and salary) in their new position they need to have a certain number of "investigators" working under them, which in turn means they need to have about 10,000 leads a year to investigate in order to justify the budget - but, and this is the important bit, the instigator of all this doesn't want 15,000 or more leads each year, as that would require significantly more staff and push the 'in-charge' role up another grade - and this would be a bad thing, because while you could swing a two grade jump in status, three grades is almost certainly going to attract the attention of someone who's already higher than you and you'll miss out.

    Don't miss next season's exciting new top rated shows, 'T.P.C' and 'T.P.C Miami'.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: "generate a minimum of 10,000 investigative leads annually"

    ... because while you could swing a two grade jump in status, three grades is almost certainly going to attract the attention of someone who's already higher than you and you'll miss out.

    At least at the place I used to work, three grades in one year was simply impossible - the promotion rulebook rules did not allow for it. The circumstances simply did not matter - you could win a nobel prize, you could stop a minor war, or you could save your depatment billions. All you could possibly get is a double increment. Assuming that you have the paperwork to prove your teamwork and leadership ability - plus the rest of the checklist, of course.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If they are really that worried can't they put them in camps?

    Disclaimer: This is sarcasm and yes history is starting to repeat itself because people just don't fucking learn.

  11. DropBear Silver badge
    Facepalm

    People's failure to learn is a built-in, inevitable direct consequence of human mortality and a relatively short lifespan. People live just long enough to be allowed meaningful discovery and gathering of experience that they then attempt to pass on before they die - but the next generation brings a fresh set of eyes and the "passing on" bit happens selectively and critically.

    Often this is a very good thing, or else the immortal Ur-humans would have concluded long ago that the Earth is flat and the Sun is orbiting around it and that would be that, case closed. This way at least human knowledge gets a chance to progress every time the "old guard" finally kicks the bucket - and no sooner, as often observed with scientific dogma that stubbornly persists for a generation.

    On the other hand, it is also often a very bad thing, as people who feel no need to actually fact-check things arbitrarily decide that inconvenient stuff they didn't personally see never happened, whether it's the moon landings or the Holocaust. And every time they think "surely WWII camps for Japanese couldn't have been that bad..." they get one step closer to willingly doing it all again...

  12. Shadow Systems Silver badge

    An easy way to start...

    Make it start by scanning every member of the current government & anyone associated with it such as military contractors. Check everyone whom it thinks is flagged as a bad person, then validate the results.

    What's that, you can't scan folks you're beholden to for crafting the laws that don't apply to you but only the rest of us?

    Go stick your head in a pig.

    Or, you know, don't consider obviously brainless ideas as viable? Nahhh, that makes too much sense.

  13. Jared Vanderbilt

    I've already seen this movie ...

    Minority Report

  14. hplasm Silver badge
    Alien

    Re: I've already seen this movie ...

    It's the reboot:

    Minorities Report

    Illegal alien! --->

  15. Kane Silver badge
    Joke

    Re: I've already seen this movie ...

    "Illegal alien!"

    My name is Vasquez - where do I sign up?

  16. DropBear Silver badge
    Terminator

    Re: I've already seen this movie ...

    "On your way to the mosque, you see a tortoise. You reach down and flip the tortoise over on its back..."

  17. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Feral Blundiering

    The adage 'to error is human but it takes a computer to really screw things up' comes to mind. It has the ring of doing something that fails miserably because it cannot understand subtle nuances.

  18. MrXavia

    Re: Feral Blundiering

    I think you meant

    "to error is human but it takes government to really screw things up"

  19. Mark 85 Silver badge

    ICE said it must develop a means of predicting what people will do in the future.

    So instead of hiring, say, 10,000 psychics, they'll write a computer program that does that? Marvelous times we live in where an individual's future actions can be predicted.

  20. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Perfectly logical

    The word Algorithm is from a Mr Al-Khwārizmī

    He was Iranian

    Iranians are terrorists

    Therefore we can use algorithms to find terrorists

  21. MiguelC Silver badge

    Re: Perfectly logical

    It's algorithmically validated bigotry, what's not to like...

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Perfectly logical

    Sure, sure-- this algorithm is too non-specific to be exclude people reliably because it omits the "experimenter bigotry" variable. That's all politics and fake news, though.

    We are much more interested in tremendous economic gains. That's why we've built a half-assed algorithm that may or may not facilitate the inclusion of people with high economic potential. If their weird Asian language or curry smell or funny music bothers some real Americans after immigration, well... there's no algorithm for that

  23. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Coat

    "could be used to arbitrarily flag groups of immigrants under a veneer of objectivity"

    You make it sound like that's a flaw in the requirements.

    It's a feature.

    But let me try and lighten the mood as it's Friday.

    "Heil Hydra."

  24. MonkeyCee Silver badge

    Pre-cog

    I do love the ideas that come out of government. In this case, please create a "pre-cog" machine that can accurately predict (for an individual) whether they are going to commit a crime* in the future.

    And once we've built this amazingly powerful piece of technology, we'll only use it on..... the section of the population with the lowest criminal activity**. Not the politicians, not the judges, not the police, not the army, not the general population, just first generation immigrants, at the point of entry.

    By the way, we already do have quite accurate predictions, based on populations rather than individuals. So if American weapons are supplied to oppressive regime A, a certain number of the people fighting A will add America to their list of countries to fuck with. However, pissing people off is considered an acceptable side effect of "redistributing the wealth" from brown people with mineral assets to white people with material assets.

    * WTF is up with "crime and terrorism". Any act of terrorism is automatically a crime, albeit one with a political motive.

    ** 1st generation immigrants are much more law abiding than the general population. 2nd gen are about as law abiding as the general population.

  25. hplasm Silver badge
    Coat

    Re: Pre-cog

    "...please create a "pre-cog" machine..."

    One that only uses pulleies, obvs...

  26. Archtech Silver badge

    Re: Pre-cog

    http://dilbert.com/strip/1996-08-28

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Pre-cog

    ** 1st generation immigrants are much more law abiding than the general population. 2nd gen are about as law abiding as the general population.

    I can't cite specific peer reviewed or official stats to to support this view, but observationally that conclusion is based upon certain conditions for migrants to migrate, and for immigration to be permitted. I would agree that it used to be true. But looking at the situation in the UK and Europe, the latest wave of migrants appear less likely to be law abiding than the general population.

  28. Old Coot

    This is actuallty a step forward

    Considering that we'll drone strike an entire wedding party for the chance at getting one guy who's rumoured to be attending, just fingering the folks is actually a step forward.

    Can't they just put an AI onto it?

  29. MonkeyCee Silver badge
    Joke

    But the current system is already excellent

    Reminds me of the old story.

    A kindly grandmother is visiting the USA for the first time. She gets to immigration, who ask her "Are you planning to overthrow the government of the USA by force or by subversion?" she thinks for a moment and replies "I do not condone violence, so by subversion then"

  30. Tony W

    Bullshit

    The lecture series "Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data" (available on YouTube) Is very good on why this is going to go wrong.

  31. Aqua Marina Silver badge

    I've seen the algorithm

    if skin = brown then Terrorist();

    If religion = muslim then Terrorist();

    if person = coming-from-far-east then Terrorist();

    if person = american-with-personal-arsenal-and-psychotic-tendencies-occasionally-demonstrating-violence -and-might-just-shoot-up-a-school then Perfectly-Harmless-Person();

    if skin = black then Shoot();

    No honestly!

  32. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Trollface

    Re: I've seen the algorithm

    If $PERSON = RICH then $GUILTY=False;

  33. Archtech Silver badge

    Do it! Do it!

    There is a definite upside to this. The people in ICE who are proposing this plan ought to be charged with implementing it. That is, they personally should be made to write the software and test it, until they have ironed out all the bugs and demonstrated that it works reliably as described.

    Then (1) they will have learned a lot more about what computers can and can't do, which will make their future proposals more realistic; and (2) they can solve all the world's other hard computing problems with relative ease.

    I especially enjoyed this bit:

    'The researchers note that characteristics sought by the government – e.g. whether an individual will become a "positively contributing member of society" – are ill defined...'

    It would be highly amusing to see the proposed software in action. What would be its verdict on the various members of Congress? On the Supreme Court? On American's many billionaires? On Mr Trump? On the DHS itself?

    "He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone".

    Ho ho ho.

  34. Mike 16 Bronze badge

    Re: Do it! Do it!

    @archtech:

    There is a definite upside to this. The people in ICE who are proposing this plan ought to be charged with implementing it. That is, they personally should be made to write the software and test it, until they have ironed out all the bugs and demonstrated that it works reliably as described.

    -----

    You are assuming that none of them have a middle-school age niece or nephew to tell them about Stack Overflow, whereupon their work will be essentially what the hired amoral minions would have produced.

    As for "testing"? with vague enough criteria anything will pass. Well , maybe some things will change. After all, a stopped clock is right twice a day, but a smartwatch with a dead battery...?

    Keep in mind that e.g. an implementation of nanosleep() that _never_ returns complies with the spec. and the spec for this job will be a tad more complex.

  35. Chris G Silver badge

    Build a wall

    Right around the USA, with only one gate, then it will be easy to see who is coming in or out.

    White Anglo-Saxon, perfect teeth, optional hair transplant? Please enter, other types consider Canada!

  36. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Coat

    For readers of William Gibson it's obvious what ICE is looking for

    Black ICE

    As in lethal force Intruder Countermeasures Electronics.

    This will not end well.

  37. Anonymal coward

    I felt a great disturbance in the Force...

    So *that's* where Steve Bong has gone...

  38. Teiwaz Silver badge

    Fingering now is it?

    Up 'til now it was just a feel up or a pat down for most when entering the land of the free.

    And people think I'm a perv???

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have a 99.99% accurate technique for detecting terrorists. It is a program that returns, 'nope, not a terrorist'. Think you can do better?

  40. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Hey, the DHS has to justify its existence somehow....

    The future is a combination of Minority Report and Brazil.

    The good news is that if they DHS keeps doing random crap like this, eventually they are bound to hit on something that actually helps.

  41. Eddy Ito Silver badge

    develop a means of predicting what people will do in the future.

    Eat, drink, breathe, shit, piss, sleep. Job done and it's a good thing they aren't asking for when. If they want anything much more precise than that, yeah good luck.

  42. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Facepalm

    "Now is that "Buttle," or"Tuttle" who gets the black hood and the white noise?"

    Oh, it's "Abdul" you say?

    I am so sorry for having spoiled your evening, and your ceiling, Madame.

    We'll just be on our way. Good night.

  43. cortland

    Al WHO?

    Al Gebra has been sighted in a local school; takedown team has been dispatched.

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