Bad Decisions: Just Blame Evolution?
February 12th 2009 will mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of naturalist Charles Robert Darwin. He researched, popularized, and will forever be associated with what is probably the biggest idea ever: Evolution.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, there are still, sadly, many people who don’t believe in it. According to The Economist: "In the United States a Gallup poll conducted last year found that only 14% of people agreed with the proposition that “humans developed over millions of years”, up from 9% in 1982."
At one level, it’s not their fault. Evolution argues, after all, that we are all just meat-based bundles of algorithms designed to perpetual our genes.
It shouldn’t be any surprise that we are sometimes quite astoundingly bad at evaluating data and making decisions.
Here’s just a very short, incomplete, list of some of the things that we know we do badly:
- We’re far more open to data that confirms our existing beliefs
- We value things more just because we happen to already own them
- We value 300 cents more than $3
- We prefer to let others make decisions for us
- We prefer to punish others rather than make a gain
- Even exposure to random numbers can influence decisions
So, ironically, a refusal to accept the theory of evolution might actually be viewed as evidence for its existence. Certain types of belief and superstition appear to be (or to have been) more important for long-term survival than simple logic. Or maybe the observed problems are unfortunate side-effects of more important algorithms.
Technology Needs to Make up for Flawed Human Beings
All this has consequences on business intelligence. Ultimately, there’s no point in investing a fortune in providing the right information, at the right time, to the right person if they are going to brazenly ignore or misinterpret it.
Technology obviously can’t “fix people,” but should do a better job of helping us detect and avoid situations where our natural decision processes may go wrong.
Image credit: cake by robokow