AI can now predict SCOTUS decisions... and tell you what to wear

Since we’re apparently going to simply ignore the warnings of everyone from Stephen Hawking to the writers of the Terminator films and just embrace the advent of Artificial Intelligence, why not jump into it whole hog? There were a couple of bits of news which popped up this week which should give you a peek at what’s to come. Since most people who arrive at this site are interested in politics and government, you’ll probably be thrilled to learn that you no longer have to wait around for nine old people in black robes to vote on the pressing issues of the day at the Supreme Court. Why bother with all of that when there’s an AI program which will tell you how the various justices will vote in advance? (Science Magazine)

A new study shows that computers can do a better job than experts at predicting Supreme Court decisions, even with less information…

The new study draws on a much richer set of data to predict the behavior of any set of justices at any time. Researchers used the Supreme Court Database, which contains information on cases dating back to 1791, to build a general algorithm for predicting any justice’s vote at any time. They drew on 16 features of each vote, including the justice, the term, the issue, and the court of origin. Researchers also added other factors, such as whether oral arguments were heard.

For each year from 1816 to 2015, the team created a machine-learning statistical model called a random forest. It looked at all prior years and found associations between case features and decision outcomes.

Okay, so it’s not 100% foolproof but it’s apparently better than humans. The report claims that a survey showed human legal experts only managed an accuracy rate of just over 60% when it comes to predicting SCOTUS decisions. (Come on, guys… we could flip a coin and come close to that.) The new computer algorithm is doing better than 70%. But if you follow the court closely as an armchair analyst, couldn’t you do nearly as well? Particularly when it comes to hot button social issues, you already know how eight of the nine justices will vote the majority of the time. If it weren’t for Anthony Kennedy you could probably score in the 90s.

So what’s next? Here’s a thought… rather than employing robots to predict what the court will do on any given case, what say we replace the actual justices with AI robots? Cut out the middle man (or middle woman as the case may be) and just automate the process. We’re supposed to be cutting back on staffing to save money anyway and the robots will work for free while processing a lot more cases.

Forward thinking such as this is clearly cause for celebration, but what will you wear to the party? Never fear. The era of smart computers can handle that for you as well. It’s not exactly Artificial Intelligence by definition yet, but Emily Dreyfuss at Wired informs us that Amazon has introduced an Alexa enabled camera which will evaluate the clothes you’ve picked out for the evening and tell you whether it’s a hit or a miss.

Amazon just introduced the Echo Look, a $199 Alexa-enabled camera that does everything Amazon’s original voice assistant can do, plus judge your outfits to help you decide what to wear.

Think of it as Amazon’s version of Cher’s computerized closet in Clueless. It can catalogue your clothes, suggests outfits, and help you choose one of two looks with its “Style Check” feature. You can create a style Lookbook, which of course allows the world’s largest online retailer to recommend clothing you might want to buy. This clearly raises all kinds of privacy concerns—do you really want Amazon knowing when you’ve gained a little weight? Imagine what else it can infer from that? And what else is that camera recording, anyway?—but the psychological repercussions of allowing a computer to judge you are no less troubling.

Science can do a lot of things, from turning chickens into dinosaurs to mixing Mentos with Diet Coke, but… fashion? As the author points out, this entire project is predicated on the idea that there is some sort of quantifiable “right or wrong” when it comes to fashion. The problem is, some human(s) had to tell the program which was which originally. Don’t get me wrong… there are plenty of “wrongs” out there when it comes to fashion, particularly in the areas of steam punk and hats at protest marches designed to look like genitalia. But that’s just “wrong” for me. If it works for you I really don’t get a vote in the matter.

But now Alexa does. And she speaks with the authority of the brains behind the electronic devices which run the lives of most younger Americans. If you’re not frightened yet you should be. But it also offers the opportunity for some great fun if you happen to be an advanced hacker. Give me five minutes with the fashion parameters in that program and we’ll have some party photos which will keep us overflowing with blog content for years to come.