AI can’t predict a child’s future success, no matter how much data we give it

A trio of Princeton social scientists recently conducted a mass experiment with 160 research teams to see if any of them could predict how children’s lives would turn out. The participants were given fifteen years of data and were allowed to use any technique they wanted, from good old fashioned statistical analysis to modern-day artificial intelligence.  Nobody even came close.

That’s because artificial intelligence – much like psychics and headless chickens – cannot predict the future. Sure, it can predict trends and in some cases provide valuable insights that can help industries make the best decisions, but determining whether or not a child will become successful requires a level of prescience that brute-force mathematics can’t provide.

According to the Princeton team’s research paper :

Investigative journalism outlet Pro Publica uncovered the sinister truth about predictive AI in a 2016 expose on the US court systems. Through a series of investigative reports, it empirically demonstrated that outright racial bias in machine learning systems used by US courts was responsible for sentencing black men to harsher sentences than white men with no way of demonstrating or explaining why.

These systems usually exist in a “ black box ,” meaning neither the original developers nor the end-users can determine why a machine ends up at a specific conclusion. The AI can tell us what it “predicts,” but it cannot explain why. When we’re dealing with, for example, sales predictions, these insights are useful. When we’re dealing with human lives and freedom, or trying to figure out whether a child will be a success, they’re basically just guesses – and statistically speaking, not very good ones.

MIT’s Karen Hao also covered this study. They write that the Partnership on AI‘s head of accountability and fairness, Alice Xiang, said the stats are barely above blind luck:

In the end, despite giving the research teams a trove of data gathered over a 15-years-long “ Fragile Families ” study on the lives of matriculating children, nobody’s system resulted in an accurate prediction. Per the Princeton team’s aforementioned research paper:

This is further confirmation that predictive AI – whether it’s Palantir’s intentionally misleading predictive-policing technology or the demonstrably racist algorithms that power the US judicial system’s sentencing software – is hogwash when it directly affects human lives.

  • TAGS