Will hard data help improve our soft judgement?

Twenty+ years of research in the field of cognitive psychology has produced one Nobel prize (in economics for Daniel Kahneman) and revealed many of the flaws inherent in our soft judgement e.g. as biases. However, time and considerable money invested in Artificial Intelligence to develop systems as capable as the human mind have also taught us just how sophisticated it is. The question is - will this knowledge combined with the tsunami of data heading our way generate any systems that can help us to make better collective decisions?

Part 1 - What 'Machine Learning' has taught us about human cognition:

While Kahneman focussed on the limits of ‘System 1' i.e., the brains version of’ ‘automatic-pilot’, machine learning experts wonder at its strengths e.g. in spatial perception and preferences e.g. for physical involvement in order to learn. It turns out even System 1’ is highly adaptive, extremely hard to replicate and is a country mile from a metaphorical information-processing machine (although, incidentally, both humans and machines learn faster using metaphors).

In fact, progress in machine learning does give us some useful signposts on how we can make better decisions as it appears we’re now meeting machine learning on a two-way street. While during the pandemic, we used arguably our best proprietary software i.e. for facial recognition, far less, fascinatingly, driverless cars are now tracking our facial expressions carefully. Their designers apply this data to adjust driving modes in response to our moods and encourage us to trust driverless technology more. Who knows, perhaps this data will also help the industry develop better hazard avoidance tools. It certainly begs the question - is human intelligence diminished minus face-to-face interaction? and the answer to this appears to be a resounding ‘yes’.

Neuroscientific studies have proven Descartes wrong. It’s less a case of - “I think, therefore I am” and far more “we’re social, therefore we reason”. Our emotions are integral to subjective reasoning and patients suffering from brain lesions that reduced emotional functioning struggle most in life to make decisions (as highlighted by Antonio Demalso).

If we’re to keep pace with AI by collectively reasoning well, we should start with leveraging data and technology to accelerate our own social learning and collaboration, starting with keeping our camera’s on.

This is Part 1 of a three written in preparation for a conference on data integrity in digital healthcare. Join me and ERA Sciences on Thursday, June 24th to consider this interesting topic -


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