Big Data & Justice at War

We are confronted almost daily with braggadocio on the topic of war. Mastery of big data, we are told, is a safeguard against destruction of our civilization, a nuclear deterrent in microchip form, some say—no need for missile silos and lasers when computer denial and attack are unsheathed. Others argue that big data innovations lead us down a different path, beyond human control, and that we are being marched double-time into another stone age. New age or stone age, who knows?

What we do know is that now or later, we are destined to consider and judge more than the technologic tools of war. There will come a day when we again judge the corpus of war leaders, both winners and losers. How are we to judge the faces of war, the deciders, in the era of big data? And who among us, that remains, will sit to judge the accused?

Face of WarIn a future when those blamed are on public trial for unleashing the rabid dogs of war, will civilized people honor something like the Sixth Amendment criminal defendant’s right to “public trial?” If so, then what of the devilish detail—the jury­­?  In America, we do have a Constitution to consider after all; Article III prescribes that the trial of all crimes “shall be by Jury…. ”

To date, no public jury has held the reigns of post-war justice. We had the Nuremberg Tribunal (eight judges, four prosecutors, and a slew of defense attorneys) for the elite criminal gang in WWII. America now has the Military Commissions Act to try “alien unlawful enemy combatants,” true, but the Act does not define due process for state-sponsored warfare. And the future of the International Criminal Court is said to be in question, and that’s “bad news for women.” The future of justice for “lawful” state-sponsored ringleaders, then, is unknown.

How then will the Tribunals of future warfare apply Big Data to impose public justice?  What process will be followed? What questions will be asked? Will War Tribunals be limited to judges who decide law and fact, or will there be a public jury panel? If a jury is to decide, then armed with big data should the decision-pool be limited to twelve jurors, twelve-times-twelve, or beyond counting, to an infinite on-line audience, the mob?

Nuremberg Justice Case.jpgAs counterpoint to this future dilemma, we may reflect back on the old-world challenges faced by the Nuremburg Tribunal.  At its inception, the Tribunal’s proof could be ticked off on a stack of three-by-five cards. Eventually, just 1,900 documents would prove key elements of the case. (See, Conot, Robert E., Justice at Nuremberg, pp. 24, 38 (1983)).  The entire body of evidence, trial testimony, and decades-long struggle to render justice for Holocaust atrocities, might today be stored on a lone thumb drive.

When the guns of a future war cease, the mountains of virtual-evidence from every side will quickly exceed herculean proportions. Thumb drives will have been replaced by invisible fists squeezing out gobs of big data. Are we to presume that a small group of judges and prosecutors will sort through these oceans of big data archives as one would finger through index cards?

Now is the time for us to have the discussion. The Court of Public Opinion has already co-opted a vast swath of the judicial function—Multiple Social Media platforms dole out collateral justice, unrestrained consequences, in the blink of a lie.

Our culture is tweaked like a refresh button almost daily by decades-old social media posts. Employers hire and fire based upon silly on-line selfies. We fear future consequences from the virtual breadcrumb trail to those little mistakes of our long-forgotten past.

Is it to be expected that a socially synchronized public beaten and torn by the ravages of war will regress and allow a covey of judges and lawyers to decide the fate of war criminals?

Sooner than later, it may be judicious for us to deliberate like a jury of old, with an eye toward reaching agreement, just how to evaluate and decide future Justice at War.

What questions would you ask in a future War Tribunal?

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The Future of Fibbing

We live in an age when arranged marriages have, like seeking a grandparent’s advice, gone the way of eating leftovers—passé.  We meet our lifelong-partners by way of tongue-in-cheek (figuratively, of course) online dating. Our courtships consist of ordering flowers from phone touchscreens and selecting a pro-forma love note. We pull up curbside to retrieve online orders of coffee or pizza or, well, whatever; and our wedding ceremony is considered trendy and inclusive because it is conducted via Skype. So what comes next for the elderly, after children, grandchildren, menopause, andropause (yes, it is a word now), and hit-the-pause are no longer options, and the technology around us is flying by too fast to follow?


The word “technology” is derived from the Greek word for “art, craft” (techne) and the word for “Word, speech” (logos).  One might think, then, that technology would broaden rather than narrow that age-old art of speaking. The fib, for example, was big business in bygone days. We laced every form of commerce, fashion statement, and threat of war across international borders by first pressing a half-truth, fib, button. Then there are new words, added to our vocabulary at breakneck speed. Dozens of words beginning with “self-” for example, were added to the Oxford lexicon over the past year alone—think self-driving, self-checkout, self-massage, and you have the idea.

What will technology do with our friend, the familiar fib, which we welcome with a wink. We call our little fibs white-lies, little inventions to teach the young, fairy tales to ease the pain of life’s shots, and stretched in long-form we preserve these yarns like jam and pickled herring. Our elderly population, the sage silver-hairs of our vast country have become scholars of the innocent fib, and for good reason. They have much to teach closed minds, so on occasion they might embellish, extemporize, theorize, and prophesy. The fib is necessary because almost nobody believes the unvarnished truth. A little shine to the facts will ease the punch of harsh reality almost every time.

The word Fib which we connect with the tender thwarting of facts to help the young is, interestingly, a “third-person present” verb, an unimportant lie. But what of the third-person? Who exactly fills that role, or better yet, who will fill that role in the future? There was a time when the third person to Grandpa’s little fib was Grandma. “Don’t believe a word he says,” she would say with a grin and giggle, followed by a hug and cookie. We all know those days are few and far between now.

With Grandparents reduced in the esteem of so many, who will act as third-person and watch out for the elderly’s educational fib?

Fortunately, we already have an answer to the question. There is little doubt that in the very near future our elders will be cared for, and constrained with good intention by robots. This makes sense, given the misconception that old people who have already been “self-ing” it for the greater part of their lives don’t need a human handhold. Certainly, too, staff shortages justify the cost-saving emplacement of cute little bobbles of technology in elder care homes like those UK’s Express magazine on May 13, 2018.

We must remember, though, that like an old milk stool, it takes three legs to squeeze the teat—no, I’m not pulling your leg—and this is not a fib. So, what are the other two legs of technology that will finally put an end to elder-fibbing?

The second leg of technology will be built into the care-bots, that of lie detection. When lies are detected from eye movements and voice deviations, a capability easily added to these harmless little nursing home ‘bots, their presence will undoubtedly chill dangling blue toes and stifle the crumpled lips that launch fibs before they sprout their fairly-like wings.

The final third leg of that poor wooden stool is that of facial recognition.  We know that robots are already capable of facial recognition just as sensors around our great cities track our whereabouts from our faces alone.


In the end, it appears that the road to eliminate the age-old fib is paved with good intentions. The arts of speech (technology), of lie detection, and of facial recognition have well-intended applications, standing alone. They all begin as help-mates to some greater good. Technology began its ascent with the advent of fire, or maybe before if you count whittling spears. And the bigger sort of fib was disregarded long ago, “You Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor.”

The question remains, whether there is anything to be lost when we apply combined technologies to self-sacrificing individuals whose only hope is to love with a fib. When robots are appended to us by facial recognition, detect lies from our tears and voices, and speak with the universal language of tisk, tisk, tisk whenever they hear a lie, will we miss the true fib?

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