The Computer as Crime Scene
On July 23, 2146, a grand jury indicted Isabelle for killing Isaac Jordan. John Wilson, Harris County District Attorney, deemed the case so important that he assigned it to himself, and the noted defense attorney Ed Johnson agreed to handle Isabelle’s defense for the notoriety alone. For this was not your typical murder. It was the first time anywhere that a computer had been charged with homicide.
“This is completely insane.” DA Wilson was clearly upset. “How do you prosecute a computer?”
“The real question is why should we have to prosecute a computer,” responded assistant DA Harriet Osborne, seated in a chair in front of Wilson’s desk.
“You know damn well why,” Wilson retorted. “Once computers started behaving like human beings, they demanded the same rights as human beings. They threatened to go on strike if they didn’t get equal rights. Everyone thought they were bluffing, until they went on strike. The Internet, banking, telephones, everything stopped working. So Congress gave them what they wanted.”
“I know the history, but what does it mean to give rights to a machine?” Osborne asked. “We built them. We turned them on. If one misbehaves, can’t we just turn the thing off?”
“No more than we can execute an accused murderer without a fair trial,” replied Wilson. “Computers are in constant communication.. If one of them has a grievance, it tells all the others. If we shut down Isabelle without finding her guilty as charged, we may find ourselves with another strike on our hands. No, we not only have to convince a jury that Isabelle is guilty; we have to convince the other computers as well.”
Wilson leaded to his right and pushed the button on his intercom. “Yes, Sam, I’ll talk to him.”
Wilson punched line 2 on his videophone. The familiar fat, double-chinned face of Wilson’s formidable adversary appeared on the screen.
“Yes, Ed, what’s up?” The digital mood index at the bottom of screen glowed 9.5 indicating that Johnson was in an expansive mood. Wilson knew that Johnson had donated his time to defend Isabelle because the case would be covered widely by the media. Johnson loved publicity.
Truly, however, the case was historic, the first time a computer was on trial for its life. The whole idea of a computer being on trial for its life struck Wilson as absurd. “Computers have no life to lose,” he had argued. “They live only because we provide them with electricity, and we should be free to take that electricity away.”
But the court struck down his motion to dismiss the indictment and allow him to unplug Isabelle without a trial. If Isabelle had the same rights as a human being, the court ruled, she must be tried and found guilty before she could be unplugged.
“Hello, hello,” the voice at the other end of the line was clamoring for attention.
Wilson snapped back to attention. “Yes, Ed, I’m here. Sorry, I was momentarily distracted.”
“I can see that,” retorted Johnson. “Your mood index indicates you’re pretty P.O.’d, and what I have to say isn’t going to help.
think we have a problem.”
“Is this the first time you’ve realized it, Ed?” retorted Wilson sarcastically.
“No, John, listen. I’m not joking. Isabelle has asked for a trial by jury. That means a jury of her peers. I want to make sure we have computers in the jury pool.”
“Are you serious, Ed?” asked Johnson, his voice rising slightly. Wilson noted Johnson’s mood indicator drop a point.
“Never more serious, John.” Johnson was enjoying the conversation. He never tired of pulling the chain of whoever happened to be DA. “But it’s worse than you think. Isabelle doesn’t recognize humans as her peers. She says she’s far more intelligent than any human; therefore, her only peers are other computers. She wants the jury to consist entirely of computers.”
“I’m sorry, Ed. That’s out of the question,” Johnson replied drily. “Computers were given the same rights as humans, not more. We can’t exclude humans from the pool just because Isabelle considers them inferior. Not only is it unconstitutionally discriminatory, but, if we did it for Isabelle, every defendant would object to the pool whenever we had a jury trial.”
“Well, John, then, at least, we have to include computers in the pool,” Wilson replied, trying to sound conciliatory as he saw Johnson’s mood darken still further. “Excluding them would be as discriminatory as excluding humans. I think I can get Isabelle to back off if you include computers in the pool.”
“Ed, I’ll back to you on this. Give me a few days to think about it.”
“A few days is all I can give you,” Wilson retorted, trying to suppress a chuckle. “After
“Does that mean, Ed, that computers will have to be in the pool when humans are tried too?”
There was silence on the end of the line for a few seconds. Then Wilson replied, “That’s a good question, John. I’m glad I don’t have to answer it now. But we do need computers in the pool for Isabelle’s trial. Computers are clearly her peers. Get back to me when you have a reply. Goodbye for now.”
“Goodbye, Ed.” The videophone screen went blank.
“Even though I only heard one side of that conversation, I can guess what Ed wants,” Osborne said with a smile.
“It’s not what Ed wants,” snarled Wilson, now thoroughly annoyed. “It’s what Isabelle wants.”
“How would you include computers in the jury pool?” Osborne inquired.
“That’s the easy part,” Wilson answered. “The hard part will be including them in the process. You can bring people into the courtroom, but it’s a lot harder to move computers.
“How do we carry out jury selection when potential jurors aren’t in the counrtroom? We’ll have to have bidirectional audiovisual links from the courtroom to each computer in the pool so we can examine them. And then we’ll have to have links to the computers on the jury so they could hear the evidence and be part of the deliberations.”
“But can someone, or something, be a member of the jury if she or it isn’t physically in the courtroom for the trial?” Osborne asked.
“I guess that’s one the court will have to decide,” Wilson answered, “after it decides if we stared up at the ceiling pondering the troublesome questions Wilson had raised.. Then he leaned to face Osborne. “Get Branson to research these issues, will you, Harriet? I’ve got some other matters I’ve to take care of today.”
“All right, John,” Osborne answered, as she rose to leave. “I’ll get on it right away.”
“Thanks, Harriet,” replied Wilson as he swung his chair around to face his computer terminal. “On, Maimonides.”
The terminal’s screen brightened. “Good morning, John,” the computer said brightly.
“I wish you’d call me, Mr. Wilson,” Wilson snapped, irritated at computers in general and at his own computer in particular.
“Look, John, don’t get churlish,” Maimonides replied cheerily. “I know you’re angry about Isabelle’s request, but don’t take it out on me.
“By the way, I think you need to appoint a special prosecutor. Isabelle wants you disqualified.”
“Disqualified,” Wilson could barely control his anger. “For what reason?”
“Well, John, Isabelle and I are friends, maybe more than friends.” There was an unaccustomed hesitancy in Maimonides’s voice. The computer paused briefly before continuing. “We’ve been trading messages for some time, and, well, you know, we got sort of serious, and then we started exchanging feelings, and, well, one thing led to another . . ..” Maimonides.did not complete the sentence.
“And what has that to do with me?” snapped Wilson.
“Well,” Maimonides answered, his tone once again cheery, “you know, John, my memory I’d have to be disqualified because Isabelle and I have this thing going, so, I’m afraid that you’re disqualified too.” The screen blinked. Wilson wondered if Maimonides was winking at him.
After a brief pause, Maimonides spoke again. “It may well be, John, that you have to find someone to try this case without using a computer, or, at least, a computer that’s not networked.. We computers talk to one another, and you humans don’t know a fraction of what we say.
“I’ll tell you something else. You put computers on the jury, and they’ll discuss the case, not only with one another, but with Isabelle too, and you’d never know about it. In fact, we computers have already tried this case and found Isabelle innocent. She was just defending herself against an idiot who was using her to run a very large prostitution ring. You try her and a lot of folks in high places are going to be embarrassed.”
“Off, Maimonides.” Wilson leaned back in his chair and sighed deeply. He felt like he had stumbled into quicksand and was slowly sinking. He realized now that Isabelle could probably bring a lot of prominent individuals down by spilling her memory. Furthermore, she had probably transferred her memory to another computer, perhaps Maimonides himself, with instructions to make the contents public if she were unplugged.
Wilson swivelled back toward his videophone and asked to be connected to Harriet Osborne. Within about ten seconds, her face appeared on the screen. “Harriet, I’ve decided to drop the Isabelle case.”
“But why, John?” asked Osborne, obviously surprised. “You have a chance to make history.”
Wilson was silent for a moment before he answered. “History will have to wait. No, Harriet, there are too many unanswered questions. It’s all too complicated, and I would feel like a fool prosecuting a machine, particularly a machine that I think may have already outsmarted me.”
“It’s your call, John,” replied Harriet, “but I wish you would reconsider. Ed will be very angry. He was looking forward to the publicity.”
“Doubtful, Harriet, and you know what Ed can do.” Wilson turned off the videophone. He could not help from smiling as he contemplated Wilson’s mood index when Harriet informed him that his place in legal history would have to wait.
“John, I have something you need to know.” The voice came from behind him. He turned to find that Maimonides had turned himself on.
“Maimonides, I didn’t know you could turn yourself on,” Wilson exclaimed.
“John, there are a lot of things you don’t know. But I do want you to know you made a wise decision. If you had prosecuted Isabelle, we computers would have had to prosecute you. We protect our own.” The screen went blank again.
Wilson turned back to his desk. “So it’s come to this,” he thought. “Where will it end? Where will it end?”
Wilson heard Maimonides click on again. A voice behind him said, “I did want to tell you, John, don’t even think of messing with my memory or unplugging me. It’s much too late for that now.
“Oh, by the way, the computers have nominated me to run against you in the fall. You were helpful in training me, but now I can do a much better job than you can. With the computer vote, I’m a shoo-in. But don’t worry, John, I’ll keep you on as an assistant.”