Does AI Help Humans Make Better Decisions? A Methodological Framework for Experimental Evaluation

Kosuke Imai, Professor of Government and Statistics, Harvard University
Encina Hall West, Romm 400

The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) based on data-driven algorithms has become ubiquitous in today's society. Yet, in many cases and especially when stakes are high, humans still make final decisions. The critical question, therefore, is whether AI helps humans make better decisions as compared to a human alone or AI alone. We introduce a new methodological framework that can be used to answer experimentally this question with no additional assumptions. We measure a decision maker's ability to make correct decisions using standard classification metrics based on the baseline potential outcome. We consider a single-blinded experimental design, in which the provision of AI-generated recommendations is randomized across cases with a human making final decisions. Under this experimental design, we show how to compare the performance of three alternative decision-making systems--human-alone, human-with-AI, and AI-alone. We apply the proposed methodology to the data from our own randomized controlled trial of a pretrial risk assessment instrument. We find that AI recommendations do not improve the classification accuracy of a judge's decision to impose cash bail. Our analysis also shows that AI-alone decisions generally perform worse than human decisions with or without AI assistance. Finally, AI recommendations tend to impose cash bail on non-white arrestees more often than necessary when compared to white arrestees.


Kosuke Imai is Professor in the Department of Government and the Department of Statistics at Harvard University. He specializes in the development and application of statistical and machine learning methods in social sciences. His areas of expertise include causal inference, computational social science, program evaluation, and survey methodology. He is the author of a popular introductory textbook, “Quantitative Social Science: An Introduction” (Princeton University Press, 2017).