Using A Computer As A Judge Isn’t Such A Bad Idea

What does science says computers are indispensable helpers. They often act and think for humans already. Could they also take over the work of a judge in the future? Professor Jaap van den Herik (Leiden University) thinks that in the future, full reviews of computers can take over the work of a judge. “Without realizing it, computers are already making many important decisions. Just think of a plane trip. For the greater part of the journey, your life is in the hands of an on-board computer and not of the pilot”, says the professor.

But why would that computer also do well in court? Well, it helps that the PC is very good at searching for old lawsuits. It’s like this: when a judge has to make a ruling, he looks at rulings from previous cases that are very similar to the current ones. For example, was someone fined 500 euros five years ago for deliberately letting his dog defecate in the neighbor’s garden for a year? The judge will now take this into account in its consideration.

problem with the computers: they are copying the old mistakes of human judges

Now it appears that judges are not very good at searching for old cases in a database. In 1985, scientists discovered that lawyers could find only 20 percent of relevant cases. And that while they themselves thought they could figure out 75 percent of the cases. Fortunately, lawyers have gotten better at this in recent years and most are now hitting 80 percent. But it still can’t match the 98 percent of relevant cases discovered by the PC. Conclusion: Based on more of those old cases, the computer therefore in principle gives a fairer punishment than a human judge. There is one big problem with computers: they are copying the old mistakes of human judges. According to Van den Herik, for example, there are old cases where the pronunciation was sometimes ‘literally colored’. On average, people of color were punished more severely than white people. The computer will discover this pattern based on all those old things. How?


In statements, for example, the place of birth of a suspect is always mentioned. If you add up all the cases, it could be that sentences given to people born in Curaçao are usually higher than people born in the Netherlands, even if the offense is the same. The computer will not recognize this as wrong or suspicious. In fact, he will think this is appropriate and will automatically impose a higher penalty in future cases on people born in Curaçao. Nevertheless, the professor is hopeful, because hard work is now being done on computer algorithms that can recognize these errors and ensure that skin color or origin are not a factor in determining the penalty. “I think that will work, and then people can be tried by a computer in the future.”