Computer says no: New Jersey is using an algorithm to make bail recommendations

algorithm recommends bail suggestions 53956782 l
Sakhorn Saengtongsamarnsin /123RF
If you get arrested in New Jersey, you could find yourself either approved or denied bail based on the recommendation of an algorithm.

That is because, from the first day of 2017, the state decided to replace its busted human-led bail system with a new algorithm called the Public Safety Assessment, which adds the power of math and data science to an area that has often relied on nothing more scientific than gut instinct.

“When we first launched our initiative as an organization five years ago, we took a look at the whole criminal justice system and tried to find the areas where we could have the biggest positive impacts on fairness, public safety and efficiency,” Matt Alsdorf, vice president of Criminal Justice for the Texas-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which designed the algorithm, told Digital Trends. “There were a lot to focus on, but we thought that focusing on the front-end of the system — the initial decisions that are made in a potential criminal case — was somewhere we could really make a difference.”

The PSA algorithm is designed to predict whether or not a person is likely to present a risk if they are released pre-trial. It was based on analysis of a dataset of 1.5 million cases around the U.S., and takes into account nine different factors about defendants. These include age at current arrest, current violent offense, pending charges at the time of the offense, prior felony convictions, prior violent convictions, prior sentences, and prior failures to appear in court — both recent and long-term. Using these data points, the algorithm then makes a prediction about how likely someone is to commit new criminal activity if released or to fail to show up at court.

If the idea of using algorithms to decide on bail sounds a bit, well, Orwellian to you, Alsdorf is keen to assuage fears. For one thing, the algorithm is only making recommendations to a judge, who can decide to take them or not. It is also interesting to note that a lot of the potentially biased reasons people previously accused bail decisions of taking into account (such as a person’s educational attainment, family structure or employment) didn’t turn out to be strong predictors of reoffending or not showing up to court and therefore don’t show up in the algorithm.

“The goal is to provide judges with better research-based, data-driven guidance about who should be in and who should be out of jail during the pretrial period,” Alsdorf said.

Emerging Tech

This startup will sequence your entire genome for free — but there’s a catch

Want to get your DNA sequenced but don’t want to shell out the hundred bucks or so to do so? A new startup called Nebula Genomics offers you the opportunity to have it done for free.
Mobile

How to use recovery mode to fix your Android phone or tablet

If you’re having a problem you can’t seem to resolve with your Android device, or maybe you want to update it or wipe the cache, recovery mode could be what you’re looking for. Here's how to use it.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Computing

Heal your wrist aches and pains with one of these top ergonomic mice

If you have a growing ache in your wrist, it might be worth considering changing up your mouse for something ergonomic. But which is the best ergonomic mouse for you? One of these could be the ticket to the right purchase for you.
Emerging Tech

Stronger than steel, thinner than paper, graphene could be the future of tech

Since its discovery, graphene has set the research world on fire. What exactly is it, though, and what could it mean for the future of tech? Here's everything you need to know about what could be the next supermaterial to take center stage.
Emerging Tech

DJI Mavic 2 Pro vs Mavic 2 Zoom: What’s the real difference?

DJI's Mavic 2 series drones are ready to fly -- but which one is right for you? The Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom are nearly identical save for their cameras. Here's what you need to know about these powerful new UAVs.
Emerging Tech

Students who designed transforming smart home will compete in Solar Decathalon

Modular smart homes are all the rage, and now some students from Virginia Tech are putting their money on their FutureHAUS, a modular, solar-powered, transforming smart home they're taking to the Solar Decathlon in Dubai.
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best tech gear and gadgetry that survived Shark Tank

The television show "Shark Tank" has churned out quite a few strange, interesting, and downright awesome products -- so we rounded up some of the best ones for your perusal. Enjoy!
Emerging Tech

Hotter than the sun: Chinese fusion reactor claims breakthrough

China’s “artificial sun” has reached a temperature of 180 million ºF with a heating power of 10 megawatts -- six times hotter than the center of the sun. The achievement could mark progress towards fusion as a clean energy source.
Emerging Tech

Hope it doesn’t melt! Rocket to ISS carries vital supplies — including ice cream

A rocket has launched over Virginia's eastern shore, carrying supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). Inside the spacecraft are supplies for the ISS itself and the crew onboard, such as scientific equipment and food.
Emerging Tech

‘Super-Earth’ discovered orbiting nearby star

Astronomers have discovered a large planet circling a sun nearby to Earth called Barnard's Star. The potential new planet is thought to be cold and icy and has a size of around 3.2 times the Earth.
Emerging Tech

OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully tests its asteroid-sampling arm

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, launched in September 2016, is closing in on its target of the Bennu asteroid. The craft has now unfurled its robotic arm, called the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM), and tested it successfully.
Emerging Tech

Microsoft’s friendly new A.I wants to figure out what you want — before you ask

Move over Siri and Alexa! Microsoft wants to build a new type of virtual assistant that wants to be your friend. Already making waves in Asia, could this be the future of A.I. BFFs?
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: A.I. selfie drones, ‘invisible’ wireless chargers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!