What is the algorithm for dialog?

October Executive Director's Blog

Our Community Matters program on October 5th presented Do Not Resist, a film that explores the militarization of the police and the use of new technology and predictive algorithms in policing.

     Coming on the heels of the presidential and vice-presidential debates in which the strained relationship between law enforcement and communities of color in this country were hot topics, our program was certainly timely.

      The panel and audience discussed issues that are often fraught with tension, including implicit racial bias in law enforcement and the mass incarceration of people of color.

It’s a topic that demands much more conversation than can be presented in one evening. In fact, our colleagues at the Ford Foundation explored a new book by Cathy O’Neil, a data scientist who explains the risks of relying on algorithms alone to predict behavior. 

     While I hope that our program was enlightening and engaging, we were missing important voices in the conversation that evening, including the men and women on the front lines of law enforcement who must balance new technology with newer and more sophisticated threats to public safety.  

     Recently, Terrence Cunningham of the International Association of Chiefs of Police acknowledged the historical mistreatment of communities of color by the police, but was roundly criticized for failing to condemn today’s officers or doing enough “soul-searching” about implicit bias in law enforcement. 

     There’s no mathematical formula that captures who you are as a person, who and what you value, how you contribute to our community. And there is no algorithm that can predict a person’s potential to grow, to “soul search,” to acknowledge multiple points of view, to seek common ground. 

    Balancing new technology, public safety, and implicit bias in policing is a tall order. The challenge is to create opportunities to hear all voices in order to continue constructive dialogue, not shut it down.

    Meaningful progress happens in quiet spaces and trusted spaces, when people have the opportunity to stop talking past one another and to truly listen. Then we can begin to build a community that is respectful of all.


     For more information and resources on Do Not Resist, visit our resource page. Contact me at [email protected].