SMART IDEAS: When Computers Sentence Criminals

The first regular-season game in Atlanta's SunTrust Park was played on Friday.
AP Photo/David Goldman
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April 18, 2017, 8 p.m.

Don't fall for the siren call of publicly funded stadiums

A. Bar­ton Hinkle, writ­ing for the Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch

The At­lanta Braves haven’t done much win­ning on the field of late. But they con­tin­ue to tri­umph in one area: ex­tract­ing money from tax­pay­ers. From their new ma­jor-league sta­di­um in Cobb County, Geor­gia, to three minor-league parks, they’ve stuck the loc­al jur­is­dic­tion with the bill every time. The same scen­ario is play­ing out in De­troit and Hart­ford, Con­necti­c­ut. “The money might buy the loc­als some ho­met­own pride. But it doesn’t buy them much of any­thing else: More than two dec­ades of aca­dem­ic re­search on the sub­ject find that sta­di­ums pro­duce al­most no eco­nom­ic be­ne­fit.” Eco­nom­ists are nearly un­an­im­ous on this point. “And re­mem­ber: Eco­nom­ists are al­most nev­er un­an­im­ous about any­thing.”

A.I. has no place in criminal justice ... at least not yet

Jason Tashea, writ­ing for Wired

As in many parts of mod­ern life, the use of al­gorithms is now per­vas­ive when it comes to sen­ten­cing crim­in­als. “Cur­rently, courts and cor­rec­tions de­part­ments around the US use al­gorithms to de­term­ine a de­fend­ant’s ‘risk’, which ranges from the prob­ab­il­ity that an in­di­vidu­al will com­mit an­oth­er crime to the like­li­hood a de­fend­ant will ap­pear for his or her court date. These al­gorithmic out­puts in­form de­cisions about bail, sen­ten­cing, and pa­role.” These al­gorithms are typ­ic­ally pur­chases from third-party vendors, which are of­ten “pro­pri­et­ary or ‘black boxed,’ mean­ing only the own­ers, and to a lim­ited de­gree the pur­chaser, can see how the soft­ware makes de­cisions.” As ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence grows more ad­vanced, so too will its opa­city. Poli­cy­makers should “hit pause and cre­ate a pre­vent­at­ive morator­i­um” on AI’s use in crim­in­al justice, un­til we can de­term­ine how AI’s “risk as­sess­ments should be ex­amined dur­ing tri­al” and what kind of over­sight mech­an­isms can be put in­to place.

No good options when it comes to North Korea

Ian Bur­uma, writ­ing for The At­lantic

Pres­id­ent Trump may have to ac­cept that the North Korean conun­drum can­not be “solved” in any tra­di­tion­al sense of the word. “The fact is that there is noth­ing much Amer­ica can do about [Kim Jong-Un’s] at­tempts to de­vel­op nuc­le­ar-tipped mis­siles, es­pe­cially without China’s sup­port.” First off, Kim will not sur­render his nukes at any price; they’re the only thing keep­ing his coun­try from be­ing viewed as the “small, im­pov­er­ished dic­tat­or­ship” that it is. Any dip­lo­mat­ic solu­tion must in­clude China, “but the last thing Beijing wants is for its com­mun­ist neigh­bor to col­lapse. The Kim re­gime may be an­noy­ing, but a united Korea filled with U.S. mil­it­ary bases would be worse, not to men­tion the po­ten­tial refugee crisis on China’s bor­ders.” There’s cer­tainly no one to play the role that Mikhail Gorbachev did dur­ing Ger­man re­uni­fic­a­tion, pre­vent­ing blood­shed as the two halves of a coun­try re­unite. For now, the world will have to live with a nuc­le­ar North Korea.

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