Decision Intelligence and the Tragedy of the Commons

Please take a careful look at the above diagram (it is a simple Causal Decision Diagram (CDD), as described in Link). It is, by my understanding, one of the most important patterns we face as a species. A decision to contribute to a common good—in this case money to maintain a shared place for cows to graze—can produce a bigger long-term benefit to you than if you just kept the money to yourself. No social conscience required for this, just the ability to see beyond the “visibility horizon” shown as a vertical line in the picture.

Being unable to see this pattern is known as the “Tragedy of the commons“, as originally named by Gerritt Hardin. Today, as my mom wrote about recently, the commons has now expanded to a planetary level. So our problems aren’t separate: climate, conflict, the economy, culture, democracy. Rather, they are all facets of the same problem, which is deeply interconnected.

Replace the decision above with health care for all, and we can see that—if we can convince ourselves that each link is true— a more productive society will lead to a healthier economy.

A rising tide raises all boats.

Replace the decision with an investment in education, and we can see that a more educated society is a more prosperous one, which, again, even benefits the wealthy, it seems to me.

Our only task, then, is to gather evidence to convince ourselves that each link is true, and then to measure and modify each one to ensure it continues to be true after making the initial investment. Then each separate commons needs to be understood in relation to the others, because the interdependencies are massive.

The Millennium Projects's 15 Global Challenges
The Millennium Project’s 15 global challenges

AI and big data can help here (if we already have data lying around from some other purpose), as can plain old-fashioned experimental methods (if we have the resources to design experiments to create new data).

Image result for buckminster fuller quotes

What do you think?

Pratt has been delivering AI and DI solutions for her clients for over 30 years. These include the Human Genome Project, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the US Department of Energy, and the Administrative Office of the US Courts. Formerly a computer science professor, Pratt is a popular international speaker and has given two TEDx talks. Her Quantellia team offers AI, DI, and full-stack software solutions to clients worldwide. Previously a leading technology analyst, Pratt has also authored dozens of academic papers, co-edited the book: Learning to Learn, and co-authored the Decision Engineering Primer. Her most recent book: Link: How Decision Intelligence makes the Invisible Visible (Emerald Press) was published in 2019 and was a finalist for the prestigious PROSE award. With media appearances such as on NPR<,CSPAN, TechEmergence and GigaOm, Pratt is also listed on the Women Inventors and Innovator’s Project. Pratt blogs at

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