Human’s are predisposed in many ways to be terrible objective observers. It’s even difficult for us to be aware of what we truly perceive or experience. Even our own emotions and desires are subject to all sorts of confusion. For example, we find it difficult to distinguish between different sorts of arousal; Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron held an experiment in which subjects confused the exhilaration of crossing a 450 suspension bridge with sexual arousal. But it’s not just our emotions that can fool us; we may not even be sure of what is right in front of our eyes.
Solomon Asch’s famous experiment in conformity is a prime example of this: a subject was placed in a room with several actors (who were in on the experiment), and the group was asked a series of very simple questions. At first everything went as you might expect; one by one, each person in the room gave the correct answer to the simple question. But then the actors started giving the a wrong answer. The subject, though confused, gave the same answer as the actors in almost every case. By contrast, in a control group of 35 subjects, only one gave a wrong answer.
Asch determined two reasons for this conformity; the subject was either convinced that the wrong answer really was the right one, or the subject was too embarrassed to give his own answer when everyone else in the room gave a different one. Asch tested for this by holding trials where the subject gave his answers by writing them down instead of saying them out loud; the subject gave many more correct answers, but about a quarter of the answers were still wrong.
What kind of faith can we have in a jury when, in the simplest of tests, such a large proportion of people were so easily fooled?
I’m not sure if a computer could necessarily do this job any better, but we humans certainly don’t do it that well.