Amal and George Clooney want to change the world. Can Microsoft help?

clooney foundation trialwatch ai microsoft getty
Getty

In North Africa, a blogger who spoke out about human rights is brought up on defamation charges. In South Asia, a journalist is on trial for sedition and defamation, while another in Europe faces charges of terrorism. In East Africa, several individuals have been charged under anti-LGBTQ laws.

When courts are used to oppress, when governments and police enforce human rights violations, what are ordinary people to do? Who watches the watchers? And a more fundamental question: Can technology help?

“It’s not as if the world has a shortage of apps. It just has a shortage of apps that are changing the world,” Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, told Digital Trends.

Microsoft and The Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ) unveiled the TrialWatch app Thursday morning, a new tool in CFJ’s ongoing TrialWatch effort to shine a light on injustice in courts around the globe – which too often are simply barbaric.

“In a lot of courtrooms around the world, they still put defendants literally in cages,” explained David Pressman, executive director of the Clooney Foundation. “And that’s not unusual, unfortunately.” Pressman should know, having worked as National Security Council Director for War Crimes and Atrocities. He also spent three years as United States Ambassador to the United Nations, and at one time served as Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security.

CFJ’s TrialWatch program, which formally launched this year, aims to monitor trials around the world that pose a high risk of human rights violations: trials that oppress vulnerable groups, silence speech, or target political opponents. Through the program, a small group of trial lawyers and activists are trained to report on legal proceedings, boiling a trial down to a series of facts that can be easily recorded and ultimately compared.

“It’s not as if the world has a shortage of apps. It just has a shortage of apps that are changing the world.”

“Is the defendant in a cage? Does the defendant understand what the judge is saying? Yes/no questions like this directly implicate whether or not the tribunal is complying with international norms,” Pressman told us. But just training people to ask the right questions isn’t enough. How do you analyze that information, and compare systems based on different legal standards using different languages with different social norms from around the world? To solve that issue, CFJ turned to Microsoft.

“What has impressed me about the whole TrialWatch program is that there is a real problem that needs to be solved. You’re literally talking about situations where someone’s freedom is at stake, we’re talking about situations where someone’s life may be at stake. And therefore the ability to get a fair trial is of the most fundamental importance one can imagine,” Smith said.

The new app aims to augment the ability of TrialWatch’s monitors, making it easier to document happenings in a courtroom. It offers a platform to record audio and take pictures of people and documents, which are then uploaded to the cloud. Having a backup of these documents should serve to protect trial monitors, Smith noted. Microsoft’s A.I. can do speech-to-text translation, which should vastly simplify the job of documenting a trial. And once in the cloud, A.I. can translate that text so that experts around the globe can analyze it, regardless of language.

“Technology not only will make monitors more effective in their work, technology will make the world a witness,” Smith told Digital Trends. Beyond that, the app aims to create a data set that has never existed before, and A.I. can tease out trends, analyzing trials from around the globe to determine best practices, highlight unsung heroes, and expose corruption that too often wears a badge.

“Using this technology in conjunction with this training, our hope and our mission is to be able to design and operate the first program that is really systematically attempting to scrutinize the courts of the world,” Pressman explained.

“We’re talking about situations where someone’s life may be at stake.”

The partnership between Microsoft and CFJ is part of growing trend within the tech industry of companies trying to address social problems, a topic Digital Trends is broadly investigating through its recently launched Tech for Change portal. By helping bridge the digital divide, shining a spotlight on inequality, improving education, and so on, technology companies big and small are showing that technology isn’t a scary term that’s synonymous with privacy concerns and security breaches.

Smith says that’s a real goal of the company’s A.I. for Good suite, a package of apps created about a year and half ago with the broadest of goals: improving accessibility, solving humanitarian issues, making the world more sustainable. The company announced A.I. for Earth in late 2017, and announced the $25 million A.I. for Accessibility at the Build 2018 conference. There are three programs today, and Smith says we can expect two more by the end of the year.

“If A.I. for Good and the suite of societal programs can accomplish even a slice for the world of what Office as a suite of software programs has done …”

“We feel like we’re on the right path.”

Interested in becoming a trial monitor with TrialWatch? Contact the organization at trialwatch@cfj.org.  You can find the TrialWatch training course at www.trialwatchtraining.org.

Emerging Tech

How Super Mario, Magic: The Gathering, and PowerPoint are low-key supercomputers

What if the creators of Super Mario World, PowerPoint, and even Magic: The Gathering had accidentally created tools hiding a general-purpose computer in plain sight? Turns out they have.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (May 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
News

At Collision 2019, technology finds its purpose: Doing good

Collision is ostensibly a startup show, with nearly 1,100 startups, 26,000 attendees, and conference tracks for pitching venture capitalists called Growth Summit and MoneyConf. But in 2019, another theme was clear: Fixing the world.
Android

Keep up-to-date with the best news apps on iPhone and Android

Are the days of traditional newspapers and broadcast news dwindling? With apps this good, maybe. Catch up on the latest headlines on any platform with the best news apps on iOS and Android.
Computing

The Dell XPS 13 headlines the best laptop deals for May 2019

Whether you need a new laptop for school or work or you're just doing some post-holiday shopping, we have you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Computing

HP drops killer deals on laptops with up to $1,300 off for Memorial Day Weekend

HP is currently dropping prices on Spectre x360, Envy, Pavilion, and Omen laptops during its Memorial Day event. So if you're in dire need of a new laptop, the latest holiday savings may be exactly what you're looking for.
Computing

Here’s how to watch AMD reveal its new Ryzen chips at Computex

AMD will be holding a pre-Computex keynote on May 27 to announce its new line of 3rd-generation Ryzen processors and accompanying Radeon Navi graphics cards. Here's how to watch the keynote live wherever you are in the world.
Computing

Keep your kids safe online with these great parental control tools

The internet can be a dangerous place, especially for your loved ones. Check out our selection of the best free parental control software for Windows and MacOS, so you can monitor your child and block unsavory sites.
Computing

These external drives have speed, durability, and storage space to spare

Whether you want an external storage drive that is fast, portable, or comes with a ton of storage, these are the best external hard drives available today. They all come with great features and competitive pricing.
Computing

The 2019 ThinkPad lineup is robust. Here's how to pick the right one for you

Be it the X series, the T series, E series, it can be tough to find the best Lenovo laptop that is right for you. To help, we'll break down all the options available to make your choice a more informed one.
Computing

Should you buy a MacBook Pro or a Razer Blade Stealth? We'll help you decide

Laptop head to heads are a great way to see which one might be the right one for you. Our latest sees the Razer Blade Stealth (2019) vs. MacBook Pro in a fight to see which one deserves to be your next laptop.
Computing

AMD's latest Navi graphics cards are incoming. Here's what to expect

AMD's Navi graphics cards could be available as soon as July 2019 — as long as it's not delayed by stock problems. Billed as a successor to Polaris, Navi promises to deliver better performance to consoles like Sony's PlayStation 5.
Computing

Ryzen 3000 chips will pack a punch, and could launch as early as July

AMD's upcoming Ryzen 3000 generation of CPUs could be the most powerful processors we've ever seen, with higher core counts, greater clock speeds, and competitive pricing. Here's what we know so far.
Mobile

Want to watch Netflix in bed or browse the web? We have a tablet for everyone

There’s so much choice when shopping for a new tablet that it can be hard to pick the right one. From iPads to Android, these are our picks for the best tablets you can buy right now whatever your budget.