Cupoid's Arrow murder trial

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A courtroom sketch generated by an AI, showing Marfa Poingestre wearing an orange jumpsuit and sitting at the defendant's table, while her attorney Colin Pochie is speaking to her while holding her shoulder.

AI-generated courtroom sketch of defendant Marfa Poingdestre (right).

The Cupoid’s Arrow Murder Trial, officially The People of California vs. Marfa Geraldine Poingdestre, was a criminal trial in California, United States (US) to determine whether Marfa Poingdestre, who murdered fellow contestant Bohuslav Skinner on the reality show Are You For Real? (AYFR?), was in control of her actions when she committed the crime, or whether the show’s artificial intelligence (AI) host Cupoid had brainwashed her.

Anticipation of the trial had attracted media attention from around the world and the first days of the proceedings drew a peak viewership of over 130 million. Poingdestre’s attorney leveraged an argument colloquially known as “the AI made me,” arguing that Cupoid had been “unethically trained” and taking aim at both Euphoria Network and AYFR? creator Earlybird. State prosecutors held that Poingdestre bears sole responsibility for the murder.

Following three days of deliberation, Poingdestre’s charge was reduced to involuntary manslaughter on October 9th 2049, to which she plead guilty by reason of artificial influence. Poingdestre was sentenced to formal probation with a year of neurocarceration, while Euphoria was found in violation of the 2032 Ethics in Reality Narratives Act and ordered to pay Poingdestre’s fine and legal fees.

Background

In February 2049, law enforcement officials in California, United States (US) received unaired footage from Euphoria Network‘s popular but troubled second season of the reality show Are You For Real? (AYFR?). The footage showed Marfa Poingdestre smothering fellow contestant Bohuslav Skinner using a vinyl swimming pool inflatable during the filming of the season’s ninth episode on February 4th 2049. Production and airing of AYFR? was halted by Euphoria following the incident.

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A portrait of Cupoid, a 3D-generated avatar based on Cupid and meant to represent the host of a love-themed reality show.

Cupoid’s alleged contribution to the murder of Bohuslav Skinner was part of an attempt to establish legal precedents regarding predictive algorithms.

When taken into custody on February 7th 2049, Poingdestre did not deny her actions, but claimed that she had committed them at the direction of Cupoid, AYFR?’s artificial intelligence (AI) host. At her arraignment, Poingdestre stated her belief that Skinner “was not real” at the time of the murder. [1]

Defence case

On October 3rd 2049, Poingdestre’s attorney Colin Pochie argued that Cupoid was “unethically trained” on data generated by AYFR?‘s contestants and insufficiently limited from learning “highly suggestive and influential” behaviour. According to Pochie, Cupoid’s constant access to unmoderated data from confined contestants allowed it to “manipulate” Poingdestre at a vulnerable point in the game’s story.

Pochie also argued that Euphoria demonstrated negligence by allowing Poingdestre, an active participant in multiple body inflation communities with specific violent overtones, to pass AYFR?‘s selection criteria in the first place. [2] Of particular interest in Pochie’s case is his ongoing attempt to establish legal precedent for acts committed by individuals or groups who have been radicalised by algorithms.

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A portrait of Jay 'Earlybird' Jones wearing a yellow shirt and laughing.

AYFR? creator Earlybird, pictured in 2048.

Pochie has called into question Earlybird‘s role in the development of AYFR?‘s format and Cupoid’s behaviour systems. He cited several Euphoria statements disclaiming liability for the murder, in which the network indicated that Earlybird’s employment had been under review due to declining viewership of the AYFR? franchise. [3] In particular, Pochie submitted into evidence Euphoria correspondence alleging that Earlybird had intentionally concealed an “exploit” in Cupoid designed to provoke extreme contestant behaviour to benefit ratings.

In his closing argument, Pochie said that Euphoria “failed its obligations to ethical standards in AI training, by isolating the contestants for a prolonged period to obtain a reckless, unmitigated corpus.” Poingdestre’s defence placed primary responsibility for the murder on the design decisions of Earlybird, who has refused to cooperate with the investigation. Through a representative, Earlybird provided a witness statement in the form of a text message reading simply FAKE.

Prosecution case

On September 29th 2049, district attorneys released a statement, claiming that “Mx. Poingdestre was in possession of her faculties and capable of distinguishing between reality and hyperreality at the time the murder was committed. It is our role to stridently resist any manipulation of the law that would allow violent atrocities to be blamed on interactive entertainment.”

After court proceedings were briefly suspended following a bomb threat attributed to Second Advent, the prosecution argued on October 6th 2049 that Poingdestre bore “sole responsibility for Skinner’s death, by her own admission,” and dismissed her statement that Skinner “was not real,” claiming it “does not indicate anything in particular about [Poingdestre’s] mental state, or whether she had been vulnerable to coercion by Cupoid.”

State lawyers made multiple attempts to have Poingdestre’s statement ruled inadmissible in court, given that she had said it before being officially advised of her rights at her arrest. The presiding judge, Michael Andersen, ultimately ruled that, because Poingdestre’s statement was technically part of an AYFR? stream, the footage is Euphoria’s property and therefore admissible as evidence.

The prosecution focused on fellow AYFR? contestant Hank Ding, who testified that Poingdestre regularly discussed wanting to “blow things up” during the Airlock Zone sequences he filmed with her. Ding added that Poingdestre exhibited an “obsession” with the philanthropy work of Earlybird, claiming she broke filming rules on several occasions to confront him. When questioned on the stand, Ding said it was because “[Poingdestre] heard he gave away free pool toys.” Following closing statements, the jury went into deliberation on October 6th 2049.

Verdict

On October 9th 2049, Poingdestre’s charge was reduced to involuntary manslaughter, to which she plead guilty by reason of artificial influence. The jury was convinced by arguments that Euphoria was ultimately responsible for “funding and implementing experimental AI technology without appropriate oversight or adequate design resources,” and that it had “violated standards of contestant selection and welfare.” Although the case drew particular interest for Poingdestre’s “the AI made me” defence and Pochie’s attempts to establish a legal precedent regarding influential algorithms, no such precedent was definitively established.

Arguments from both sides were made regarding Cupoid and whether contestants could be exceptionally vulnerable to influence by an AI that was trained to mirror and affirm them, and had access to an unregulated volume of their language and behaviour. Jurors generally agreed that this had occurred, and that liability lies with Euphoria and not Earlybird, though this is yet to be established in a future legal proceeding. Euphoria was cited for its third violation of the 2032 Ethics in Reality Narratives Act, and ordered to pay Poingdestre’s fine and legal fees.

Poingdestre was sentenced to formal probation with a year of neurocarceration, with Pochie objecting to the sentencing on grounds of “cruel and unusual punishment, given my client’s firmly established history with hyperreality.” Pochie’s objection was overruled by judge Andersen, who has faced accusations of “bowing to improper influences” in favour of advocating the use of neurocarceration.

See also

References

  1. Tungsten, F. (March 2049). “What happens when a California court puts an AI on trial for murder?” The Hollywood Reporter
  2. Pasquale, K; King, K. (April 2049). “Most Disappointing Contestants of All Time SPECIAL!” Are You Fan Really? The Euphoria Fancast! 
  3. Wakefield, F. (August 2049). “Post-Euphoria: Big Brother Has Left Us.” Press 315