'Precrime' Parole System In Philadelphia

Philadelphia's Adult Probation and Parole Department is trying a new computer system that attempts to forecast those parolees who ware most likely to commit new felonies - so they can be kept off the streets.

"It's a complete paradigm shift for the department," said chief probation and parole officer Robert Malvestuto. "Science has made this available to us. We'd be foolish not to use it."

Criminologists say the system works - it can identify those most likely to commit violent crimes...

The computer isn't merely crunching data - it is creating its own rules in what is known as "machine learning," a fast-growing technology that enables computers to encroach into the human realms of judgment and decision-making.

University of California statistician Richard Berk fed in data on 30,000 past cases as training data; about one percent of these parolees had committed or attempted to commit a homicide within two years of beginning probation. The computer system then looked for factors or patterns that predict criminal behavior.

The system was then given data on an additional 30,000 cases. The computer identified a group of several hundred individuals who were most likely to commit additional homicides. In the test 45% of the individuals so marked did in fact commit or attempt to commit homicides within two years.

This is not quite as accurate as the babbling precogs from Philip K. Dick's Minority Report. In the story, the precrime department was almost infallible in its ability to predict homicide. Almost.

From The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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