Would you be comfortable with a computer calculating the likelihood of your continuing to break the law? Richard Berk, a career statistician who is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, thinks you should be. In his view, if you feed enough data in, a properly written algorithm can calculate whether a person will engage in criminal behavior.
Starting this fall, the state of Pennsylvania plans to run a pilot program using Berk’s system in sentencing decisions.
This is a bit much for me, because a programmer’s biases can worm their way into an algorithm. It makes me think of “The Adjustment Bureau”, a movie in which shadowy forces control people’s lives. Yes, I do realize that past behavior is often predictive of future behavior, but I still find it rather creepy. On the other hand, since the legal system seems to be falling apart along with everything else, perhaps we would be smarter to take our chances with the computer…