Envision two physicians presented with identical information regarding precisely the same patient giving quite distinct analyses. Now imagine the main reason for the distinction is because the physicians have left their diagnosis in the morning or day, or in the start or the end of the week.
This is“sound“ — the reason human judgements which should be identical vary — that Daniel Kahneman, one of the world’s best-known psychologists and winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics, tackles in his most recent publication, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment.
Kahneman won his Nobel prize for his work with fellow Israeli psychologist Amos Tversky on how cognitive biases shape conclusion. Their job, starting in the late 1960s, laid the foundation for the new field of behavioural economics, which challenged the economic orthodoxy which decisions are logical.
Kahneman’s previous publication Thinking, Quick and Slow, published in 2011, attracted much of this work to the attention of a wider audience and cemented his standing as a foundational figure in the comprehension of human behaviour.
In Noise, co-authored by Olivier Sibony and Cass Sunstein he investigates a different phenomenon to cognitive bias.
Bias is a mental process, and could be detected in individual conclusion, the genial 87-year-old explained to me when I interviewed him (via video) for the UNSW Centre for Thoughts. „However, we can’t identify sound in a particular judgement.“ Instead we have to look at sets of judgements to discover sound.
Kahneman’s new publication presents several persuasive instances from business, medicine, and criminal justice where judgments seem to change for no“good“ reason.
1 example is fingerprint analysis, with the same analyst making different judgements about precisely the same print at different points in time. If the analyst has just the fingerprint to look in — and no other information regarding the case — and decides on one occasion it’s a game and on another it’s inconclusive, that’s sound.
If, on the other hand, the analyst changes their mind due to additional information (like they’re told ballistics evidence suggests a different conclusion), that’s bias.
Both are a issue, Kahneman states. However, because sound can only be identified in statistics, it’s more difficult to consider, and so tends to go undiscussed.
Noise in program judgements
Kahneman’s publication discusses several unique types of sound, but the most critical discussion relates to system sound — that the variability in decisions appearing in programs meant to produce uniform judgements.
There are lots of situations where diversity of view is highly desirable. „Noise is the variability where you do not want it,“ Kahneman said.
Think of the judicial system producing sentences, or the underwriting process to establish insurance premiums. Such systems are supposed to speak with“one voice“. We need judicial sentences to reflect the crime, not the judge which occurs to hear the case. We need two underwriters with exactly the same information to figure the same or similar premiums.
The challenge, then, is to identify unwanted variability and then do something to mitigate it.
On this, the publication offers a vital insight which you could apply to your own decision making: resist“premature intuition“ — the feeling you“understand“ something even when you aren’t sure why you understand.Sometimes intuition is quite helpful for making instant decisions. In other, less time-critical situations, Kahneman states judgements based on instinctive feelings need to be disciplined and delayed.
Read more: Explainer: what is intuition?
Act on intuition only once you have created a balanced and cautious consideration of proof, “ he advised. Just as possible collect that evidence from diverse sources, and from those who have created their own independent conclusion of the signs.
With this, Kahneman said, sound can easily be amplified.
Sticking to artificial intelligence
1 response to the prevalence of sound in judgements would be to turn to machines, and allow computers decide.
Kahneman isn’t yet a enthusiast. He considers artificial intelligence is going to“produce big problems for humankind in the next few decades“ and isn’t ready for many of the domains where judgement is necessary.
Read more: Algorithms workers can not see are pulling the direction strings
In the long run, however, he can see a world where we may“not need individuals“ to make lots of choices. When it becomes possible to structure problems in regular ways and also to collect sufficient data about those problems, human judges could become superfluous.
Until then there’s plenty to do in reducing human error by enhancing human judgment, instead of eliminating it by outsourcing choices to machines.
Understanding about sound (and prejudice ) will help with that goal.
A listing of Daniel Kahneman’s full conversation with Ben Newell is avaiable on the UNSW Centre for Thoughts‘ site.
This Guide is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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