Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gamers vs. Scientists

Finally! Validation that all my years spent as a youth inside playing video games rather than taking in the fresh air and sunshine was actually a good decision. Apparently, gamers have done what scientists could not. They deciphered the structure of an AIDS-like virus by "playing" with the virus in 3-D space using a program called "Foldit" created by the University of Washington.

The Foldit software was created as a game for the purpose of having gamers compete against one another to finish puzzles. The puzzles in this case were chains o
f amino acids that needed - you guessed it - unfolding. When not "unfolded," amino acids and viruses look like blobs of spaghetti in a 2-D space. It's hard to see what's really going on and for scientists to develop cures, they need to know the structure of the virus.

According to Seth Cooper, one of Foldit's creators, the decision to let gamers take a crack at the virus was based on the idea that humans have intuitive spatial relationship skills that computers don't yet have. The result was a perfect balance of computer generated images that made seeing a microscopic object possible to the naked eye and human ingenuity that thought around the process.

This is just one example of how 3D space combined with human perception can yield incredible results. The same goes for the courtroom. Science and math are wonderful, but not everyone understands it. That's why there are years of schooling and often massive student debt required to get a piece of paper that says a person understands those subjects. Nonetheless, that doesn't mean lay people should abandon hope of understanding tough scientific concepts and ideas. The gamers that figured out the AIDS-like virus structure were not scientists, but yet by observing the virus visually in 3D space, they came up with a well-reasoned conclusion.

The same could be said for judges and juries. When faced with complex verbal explanations of complex ideas, jurors may often feel lost. They must then make decisions together based on separate, perhaps inaccurate, understandings of a subject. However, if those same jurors hear a step-by-step explanation accompanied by a 3D animation or a 2D visual, they will take away more from the information than they would left on their own. The added benefit is that all of the jurors see the same visual, so they can then discuss the issues from the same starting point. Without the groundwork or base of a visual, each juror must then come up with their own idea of how to visualize the subject matter in their minds resulting in different pictures. A lawyer's goal should be to get all of the decision-makers in a room on the same page by visualizing an argument or an explanation. When someone can see what you see, you're already closer to your goal of understanding. Just as gamers saw a problem visually in 3D and then figured out how to solve it even without fully understanding the science, so can jurors and judges understand complex ideas when presented with accompanying visuals.

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