Andrew Sullivan links to this news article which links to this research article by Stamos Karamouzis and Dee Wood Harper called “An Artificial Intelligence System Suggests Arbitrariness of Death Penalty”:
The arguments against the death penalty in the United States have centered on due process and fairness. Since the death penalty is so rarely rendered and subsequently applied, it appears on the surface to be arbitrary. Considering the potential utility of determining whether or not a death row inmate is actually executed along with the promising behavior of Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) as classifiers led us into the development, training, and testing of an ANN as a tool for predicting death penalty outcomes. For our ANN we reconstructed the profiles of 1,366 death row inmates by utilizing variables that are independent of the substantive characteristics of the crime for which they have been convicted. The ANN’s successful performance in predicting executions has serious implications concerning the fairness of the justice system.
I don’t really see why the predictability of death sentences–in their data set, they say they “successfully classified 147 out of 158 non-executed inmates (93.0%) and 130 out of 142 executed inmates (91.5%)”–is evidence that death sentencing is “arbitrary.” Predictable seems like the opposite of arbitrary.
We collected data on the appeals process for all death sentences in U.S. states between 1973 and 1995. The reversal rate was high, with an estimated chance of at least two-thirds that any death sentence would be overturned by a state or federal appeals court. Multilevel regression models fit to the data by state and year indicate that high reversal rates are strongly associated with higher death-sentencing rates and lower rates of apprehending and imprisoning violent offenders. In light of our empirical findings, we discuss potential remedies including “streamlining” the appeals process and restricting the death penalty to the “worst of the worst” offenders.
P.S. To make a more parochial comment, I’m surprised the news article was headlined “Computer predicts . . . ” as if somehow this was done by HAL rather than a human statistical analyst. I don’t know how the neural network method of Karamouzis and Harper compares to BART or logistic regression–I’m willing to believe it’s better–but it seems a little funny to me to refer to it as a “computer system” rather than a “prediction method” or a “statistical method” or a “prediction algorithm.”