• Momus Analytics jury selection software raises concerns of racial bias
  • Still, benefits of AI are expected to push growth regardless of bias, privacy concerns 
  • The jury-selection software is the latest application that has been hit by bias criticism as AI technologies revolutionize a wide range of industries

A new software that claims to use algorithms to help lawyers select jurors may discriminate based on race and gender — the latest accusation of bias to emerge as artificial intelligence’s spread transforms society.

Momus Analytics says its program can screen people based on their ethnicity, political views and occupation to find a jury most favorable to a defense lawyer’s case. Lawyers, jury consultants, and legal technology researchers told Vice that the software may violate the U.S. constitutional prohibition against excluding jurors based on race or sex.

While AI and machine learning are disrupting industries ranging from manufacturing to finance, critics and privacy experts are cautioning about a downside: that the algorithms too often discriminate against minorities and women. Facial-recognition technology to wearable fitness devices to healthcare-management software are just some of the AI applications that have come under heavy criticism for incorporating biases into their uses.

The wide range of discrimination isn’t “a sinister story of racist programmers scheming in the dark corners of the web,” wrote Ruha Benjamin, an associate professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, in her 2019 book, Race After Technology. The real danger is that many “existing social biases are reinforced” by technical fixes that “aim to fix racial bias but end up doing the opposite.”

AI startups have found themselves in the crosshairs over the alleged biases and privacy issues. After Clearview AI, a facial-recognition startup, was the subject of a New York Times investigation that detailed how it collected more than three billion images from the Internet, racial justice organization Colour of Change called on the company’s client to stop using the software.

But the advantages that artificial intelligence brings to companies may be too great to ignore. Unilever, for instance, found that using AI analysis from HireVue saved it $1.2 million in annual costs by cutting down on the time needed to sort through 250,000 applications. The cost-savings for companies is one of the reasons why Grand View Research predicts that the global AI market will reach $390.9 billion by 2025, growing at a compound annual rate of about 46% from 2019. And that after 1,356 AI-related startups in the U.S. raised a record $18.5 billion, according to the National Venture Capital Association. That topped the $16.8 billion total from 2018, the group said.

Momus, based in Coral Gables, Florida, doesn’t explain on its website exactly how its algorithms choose one potential juror over another. The company’s patent application lists several characteristics that are relied on, including people of Asian, Central American, or South American descent are more likely to be leaders, while people who describe their race as “other” are less likely to be leaders. Leadership is likely to indicate whether a juror may be able to influence other jurors, the company said in the application.

“The jury selection process is the most important part of any trial,” Momus CEO Alex Alvarez says in a promotional video. “The jurors will determine the outcome of your case.”

The legal industry doesn’t appear to have any qualms about the software, which was launched last year. The National Law Journal named Momus one of its 2020 emerging legal technologies and Vice reported that the National Judicial College invited Alvarez, to speak at a judges’ symposium on artificial intelligence and the law.