Girl dies from abuse after AI system computed she was likely safe

Japanese police have admitted that they allowed artificial intelligence (AI) to influence their decision not to provide protective custody to a child who later died in her mother’s care. 

“The AI figures are only for reference,” Mie Prefecture Gov. Katsuyuki Ichimi said at a press conference on Tuesday, stressing the importance of the judgment of those in charge. 

“We are not in a position to draw a conclusion whether the method of utilizing this data used this time was 100% good,” indicating he intended to refer the matter to a third-party committee consisting of outside experts to determine further use of the system, Japanese outlet Jiji reported. 

Police considered the case of a 4-year-old girl in the city of Tsu, running it through an AI program introduced in 2020 and trained with the data of 6,000 to 13,000 cases. Officials hoped the program could help reduce the burden on child consultation centers, which serve as the country’s equivalent to child protective services. 

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The program determined her case a “39%” rate of necessary protection, and the girl’s mother showed a willingness to respond to child guidance expert advice. As a result, officials did not place the girl in temporary custody to investigate further. 

Tsu City child protection

The Mie Prefecture government building in Tsu City. (Google Maps)

The mother, 42, is now in custody on suspicion of bodily harm leading to the death of her daughter. 

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The mother and daughter met with child consultation center officials in February 2022 after reports that witnesses had noticed bruises on the daughter, The Asahi Shimbun reported. 

Child protection Japan

Japan has spent years looking at how to include AI in child care. (Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images)

Officials decided to occasionally visit the child but that she should remain in her mother’s care, based on the fact they determined the bruises were not from abuse and because of the mother’s willingness to cooperate. 

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They admitted that the AI had included the visits as a factor in its calculation of the risk to the child. When the child didn’t appear at day care for a long period of time, the child consultation center made no effort to contact the mother. 

The Japan Times reported the center in fact failed to check on the girl for a whole year. 

Japan has spent years looking at how to include AI in child care: Japanese startup Unifa in 2013 looked to introduce AI-powered tools to help track children’s growth, sleep habits and other health indicators in their earliest years as they attend day care, according to Japanese outlet The Bridge.

By 2019, the service was in use in some 6,250 kindergartens and other child care facilities across the country. 

Fox News’ Matthew Noyes contributed to this story from Tokyo.

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