Machine learning and stop-and-think

To create an inclusive community that successfully tackles issues like discrimination, we need open lines of communication between faculty and students. When that communication breaks down, a misunderstanding can turn ugly and prevent real progress. We saw an example of this recently when Professor Satyen Kale assigned his machine learning class a project: to train classifiers on the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk dataset.Stop-and-frisk was a controversial NYPD interrogation program that disproportionately targeted young black and Hispanic men and was ruled unconstitutional and discriminatory by a federal court in 2013. The assignment, satirically titled “Help design RoboCop!” was an exercise using records of searches conducted by the NYPD. The task was to create a program that could accurately predict whether an officer would make an arrest based on features including…

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