Artificial intelligence and human limits

Are we getting dumber?  Or is stuff just harder?

Both are true.  Between-silo problems are the new bottleneck.  We’re inundated with information, so we take cognitive short cuts.   And “wicked” problems keep getting wickeder.

Take this “invisible art” artist.  She sold a few.*

Real decisions are made in the heart, the gut, based on a good story.  So we’re vulnerable to master wizards: good story tellers.  And, often, we’ll do what they say.

It’s impossible to assemble hundreds of graphs and data visualizations in our heads to make good decisions. It’s a fiction that we can.  So we’re overwhelmed, take short-cuts, but it’s hard to admit.

The good news: we have new superpowers.

Data is the seventh sense of humanity. Click To Tweet

It’s exploding in volume.  And we are, just this year, learning to wield it, to overcome our collective sensory integration disorder slash brain freeze. We can use machine learning to find the weak signals, and move from text to visualization so we can comprehend the complexity.  Diagnosing illness, prescribing a treatment, planning capital, avoiding conflict, making an investment, choosing a lawyer, maximizing the value of every dollar spent to benefit a cause.

And we can combine cold data with human intuition, somatic intuition, and go beyond the usual “hard” factors to the usually ignored soft ones: compassion, empathy, morale, passion.

Some say we haven’t been that rational.  We rationalize.  Time to get past that.  Here’s how:


Cartoon by David Somerville, based on a two-pane version by Hugh McLeod.

  • You’ve got a complex decision
  • It’s made of cause-and effect links (including those involving soft factors)
  • It crosses silos: previously separated realms like water and conflict, women and energy, finance and marketing.
  • Machine learning helps with the cause-and-effect: you can combine hundreds of things you can measure to predict something that will happen in the future.
  • Representing the decision visually takes you out of the verbal – which is what causes those cognitive biases – and into visual / spatial / motor.
  • You make a compelling, interactive visualization, which engages motor and visual skills. It’s like the steering wheel of a car – the engine is still behind it, but you don’t have to be changing the spark plugs while you’re driving.   It answers the question: “If I make this decision today, what will be the outcome tomorrow?”
  • And it allows you to invite more than one person into the decision
  • Then tell your story

This is about turning AI (artificial intelligence) on its head, and bringing humans into the loop: IA: intelligence augmentation. Without it, we’re moist robots at the mercy of the master wizardsLearn more.


*Thanks to Renee Hathcoat —one of my favorite artists, whose work isn’t invisible—for this pointer.

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