Expert, shmexpert — what does the database say?

OK, one more Labor Day post before my family and I run out the door (at least before the kids run out the door–they run everywhere!).

The Financial Times had a fantastic article in it this past weekend: “How computers killed the expert” (Sep. 1 / Sep. 2 edition, Life & Arts section).  [I note with interest that the online article is a bit more tamely titled: “How computers routed the expert” with no illustration featuring a “chalk body outline” filled with 0’s and 1’s.  I like the newspaper version better.  I hope that does not mean that I am overly morbid.]

The article discusses how behavior prediction computer programs and purely-computerized database analysis (“super crunching,” as it is called by Freakonomics authors Levitt and Dubner) is routinely outperforming human experts in making predictions about human behavior — such as in predicting Supreme Court decisions and the post-release behavior of sex offenders.

Personally, I find the implications — for both public policy and the nature of judgment — a fascinating meditation.  And one that I do not have the time to discuss here.  But for those who might be interested, here’s the link.  Read it, if only for the reason that it mentions the words “actuarial prediction instrument” (and demonstrates, thus, the application of actuarial principles outside of the world of insurance).

Reading the article, the meditations I had in mind after seeing the movie Minority Report are brought to mind, as well as some mental explorations I have made of a world in which human reasoning takes a back seat to automated “reasoning.”  Hopefully I will find the time to discuss it more deeply before something else grabs my fleeting attention.  I really think it’s worth consid– Oh, look!  A butterfly outside my window!

Um… What was I talking about?

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