Government by data and urgency redefines crime and punishment

In recent posts, I outlined some ideas I have about a future government that operates on data instead of human accountability, deliberation, or debate.   Such a government would demand that the population follow periodically updated rules that analytic algorithms will derive from the most current data about everything.   The nature of government is authoritarian, similar to a theocracy, but one where the authority is in the form of trusted data sources and trusted algorithms instead of human governors, tyrants, or some priestly class.

In particular, I anticipate that government by data will produce incomprehensible or even nonsensical rules that the population will have to follow.  The justification for following the rules that come from trusted algorithms using trusted data.  Also, diligently following the automated rules over time are seen to provide more beneficial results than detrimental ones.

In order to enjoy the benefits of government by data, the population must obey the latest rules even if they disagree or if they cannot understand that reasons.  In particular, they must obey the rules even if the rules will harm them personally.  Disobedience of the rules is a crime.

Government by data replaces the concept of crime and how to manage criminals.   Within this government, all rules are valid only temporarily.   When new rules replace old rules, the old rules are obsolete and have no meaning.   The old rules are not rules that the government no longer enforces.  Instead the old rules are obsolete and irrelevant.   The sole justification of the rules is that it is based on the current data and the currently accepted analytic algorithms.    To allow for the most benefit, such a government has no obligation to maintain continuity of old rules.   Old rules do not set precedence that requires respect.   When rules expire, the old rules are simply obsolete and irrelevant.

The concept of fleeting rule making demands a different approach to defining crime and punishment.   The crime is violating a rule that will soon expire and become irrelevant.  Within this context of short-lived rules, the options for punishment must be constrained in the time period when the rule is valid.   There is no justification for extracting a punishment for an obsolete rule.    As a result, the options for punishment are either swift forms of punishments or incarceration for a term that automatically expires when the rule expires.

Swift forms of punishment are designed to return the criminal back to society as soon as possible in order to continue to contribute.    Such punishments may involve some type of embarrassment or harsh treatment.  In either case, the punishment must be public and widely publicized to encourage the public to limit such punishments or to find ways to tolerate or to manage the transgression without official punishment.     Although the swift punishment may be harsh and painful, the imperative is to return the punished person back into society with full capabilities to continue to make contributions.   This imperative forbids any punishment that results in permanent injury or disability.    Any wounds from a harsh punishment must be wounds that will heal in a reasonable amount of time.   Swift forms of government must also be swift to coincide with the valid period of the rule and to allow the person to return to society and participate while the rule is still valid.    Ideally the entire process of trial and punishment should occur in the same day.

The alternative to swift punishment is the incarceration for the remainder of the valid period of the violated rule.   Incarceration is not primarily for punishment.  Instead incarceration is a political tool to isolate dissenters from society.   The goal of the imprisonment is to prevent the dissenting rule breaker from influencing the remainder of the society to disobey the rules.

I propose that the way to operate this system of regulating behavior is to limit the government’s options for punishment to exactly one of three choices.   The preferred option is to ignore the rule breaker and encourage the population to manage the problem themselves.  The option for swift punishment will allow the rule breaker to return to society quickly.  The option for imprisonment isolates influential dissenters so that they will not interfere with the rule while it is in force.  The options are exclusive.   In particular, the only justification for a swift though harsh punishment is to return the person back to society while the rule is still valid.  There is no justification for a harsh punishment when there also will be imprisonment that will prevent the person from returning.  It must be one or the other.

This concept of handling disobedience within a government by data dispenses with the notion of justice.   Government by data’s exclusive focus on future opportunities and risks results in the government having no interest in some larger concept of justice of historic actions.  In such a government, the purpose of punishment is to manage disobedience for the currently active rules with the interest of obtaining the best data for the next iteration of rule making.   The best data comes from a population that is maximally cooperative with the current rules.   After rules expire, and transgressions also become irrelevant to a government by data.

If it is feasible to create a government by data alone, then there may be no justice at all.   The government is not in the business of obtaining justice and there will be no other means available to obtain justice.   This will require a different frame of mind in the overall population.   Obviously, such a change is not going to happen any time soon.

However, I think it is possible for humanity to accept a world view without long-term justice.  I suspect a similar world-view occurred in pagan classical periods of Rome and Greece.    The system of crime and punishment was focused on immediate priorities instead of long-lasting justice.   It is true that their punishments may have been extreme to the point of permanent disability or death, but this was more of a consequence of a quick resolution of the problem instead of a lasting concept of justice coming from the later monotheistic ideals.   I suspect if they had modern understanding of  human health, in many cases they would have chosen different approaches to extract sufficient punishments without causing permanent damage.   Their goal was to provide swift punishment to fit the immediate crime.

This futuristic vision of government is made possible by high technology of massive data collection and analysis.  Ironically, the result may be to return to ancient world practices for obligated community participation in rituals with the need for swift and harsh punishments for non-compliance.

Although the technology to operate the entire government by data does not yet exist, the modern world does have some experiments of returning to classical practices of criminal punishment even in the territories within western democracies.   These are semi-autonomous regions that exempt themselves from state laws governing personal behaviors so that they may impose their own religiously informed methods of government.   In particular, I’m referring the the communities that successfully implement a form of Islamic sharia law as taking priority over state-level democratic laws.  Although these forms of government are justified on ancient texts instead of recent data and algorithms, they emphasize swift forms of punishment instead of lengthy imprisonment following lengthy deliberative judicial processes.   Both judgement and punishment occur quickly.

Frequently, there are news reports of punishments that are excessively harsh for what do not seem to be crimes.  The reports catch my attention because of my objection from my viewpoint who values western democratic government.   My objections are irrelevant because both the crimes and the punishments are explained as being proper for the local traditions.

Despite my displeasure in learning about the individual cases such as this one, these cases offer certain lessons about how brief harsh punishments should work within a more modern government by data.

As noted earlier, if punishments are necessary for breaking rules from a government by data, the punishment must be brief and not extend past the valid period of the rule.   In such a government, a harsh punishment allows for a brief period of punishment so that the individual can return as a contributing member of society.   There should be a rule that a punishments are constrained to be what can completed in a reasonable time (such as one day) with little risk of permanent injury or disability.

There is a human tendency to want punishments to scale with the degree of the crime.  For example, if the punishment involves lashes, than a more serious crime should have more lashes than a less serious one.   This demand for proportionality specifically satisfies a human interest for justice.   The problem is that this can result in impractical punishments such as 1000 lashes.

In government by data, there is no requirement for some larger goal of justice.  Punishments do not need to be proportional to other crimes.  The same punishment (such as 20 lashes) can serve equally well for the full range of crimes where lashes would be appropriate.   A standard-sized penalty is sufficient to assure the goal of securing future cooperation of the rule-breaker.

The justification of the harsh punishment is to provide an opportunity for the person to return to the community immediately afterwards.   Having a punishment that requires repeated harsh sessions over several weeks undermines that justification by requiring a prolonged absence from society in order to carry out the punishment.   The requirement for quick punishments necessarily constrains the punishments available.   Weekly iterations of harsh penalties for the same crime would have no justification in a government that is focused only on the future.

Along the same lines, it does not make sense to combine a harsh punishment with a prison sentence.  The justification of the brief harsh punishment is to allow the person to return to the community.   If the harsh penalty coincides with imprisonment than it serves not purpose other than to be sadistic.   There are times when prison terms are appropriate in order to isolate an influential dissenter from society while a rule is in force.   In those times, the prison term should be free of any harsh punishment.  The only justification for harsh punishment is its brevity in order to allow the person to resume participation in his community.

In modern practice of isolated locally-administered criminal punishments, the sentences appear to be arbitrary and very unevenly applied.  Although local customs justify the choice of punishments, there is a lot of latitude to decide who receives punishment and how much punishment to give.   Often these decisions appear to be biased strongly by local animosities or individual prejudices.

A futuristic government by data automates rule making with algorithms and data.   The same government can use the same technologies to determine the type and severity of punishment.   The futuristic government eliminates human judgment for making rules and for assigning punishments for rule-breakers.  The algorithms would assure consistent punishments without inappropriate prejudices that can occur from individual judges or magistrates.  Just as rules are automated without human interference, the assignment of punishments can be automated.

As in the examples (such as the linked example), there may be controversies for a particular punishment as being too harsh.  In a government by data, the population can demand to inspect the data that justified the terms of the punishment.  They would be right to complain that there is no recent data (such as having no data more recent than over a thousand years ago) to back up the penalty.   The population can also demand to review the algorithms for interpreting the data.  They would have the opportunity to demand corrections of any discovered errors in the algorithms or to demand that their independent application of the algorithms produce the same results.   In modern examples, the algorithm test is hard to pass because algorithm is humans making arbitrary decisions based on their privileged role in their community.   In contrast, a government by data will use machines operating well documented algorithms so that others can independently verify the results.

Also, in my discussions about government by data, I described a goal of fostering public tolerance for crimes in order to reduce the number of penalties that need to be administered.  This effectively provides the community a power of clemency.   The punishments should be widely publicized to encourage the population to invoke clemency in order to avoid experiencing the new punishment.   The goal is to limit punishment to those cases with broad community consent of needing punishment.

Automated assignment of punishment takes that decision out of human hands just like automated decision making eliminates the need for human decision makers.  However, there is still an opportunity for human diligence to demand to inspect the data and algorithms that come up with the punishment.  The population may demand better algorithms or better data to make for more acceptable punishments in the future even when they do not invoke clemency for the current case.

Although the types of punishments that may occur in government by data are similar to older traditional punishments we witness in parts of the world today, a future system of automated government by data can avoid some of the abuses.   The government by data encourages forgiveness and clemency to minimize the need for punishment.   This government requires any punishment to be quick in order to return the person back to the community as soon as possible (such as within a day).   The punishment decision is automated using algorithms and data to assure consistent and fair treatment of cases.  The algorithms and data for the punishment decision are to assess what minimum level of punishment for a particular person will be sufficient to encourage that cooperation instead of having some broader goal of extracting justice.  The public will have access to evaluate and criticize the data and algorithms that impose the punishments, just like they will interact with the data and algorithms that generate new rules.   In government by data, the automatic decision-making based on data and algorithms includes the decision making for assigning punishments to people who disobey the rules.


12 thoughts on “Government by data and urgency redefines crime and punishment

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