Guest Post: Battle of the Curves: The Coronavirus Versus Human Decision Making (Part 1)

“Democracy depends on an informed populace. Yet the world is now a complex system, so we must democratize technology that helps us make good decisions, despite the complexity. This is now possible, and just in time.”
—Dr. Lorien Pratt, author of Link: How Decision Intelligence Connects Data, Actions, and Outcomes for a Better World

Can we vanquish the spread of the coronavirus with an equally powerful “social viral” effect, as enhanced through artificial intelligence? We have been building the separate pieces of this capability for decades: social media connects us, “big data” gives us a “seventh sense”, computer gaming lets us collaborate in complex environments, and AI extracts value from data, and much more. We can assemble these parts for this new battle. To complete the picture, it is time to build dynamic simulation environments with technology from a new discipline, called Decision Intelligence (DI), which can assemble these pieces into a simple-to-use yet powerful decision-making machine to help steer us through these difficult times.

To help you to understand what I’m talking about, I recently faced one of the hardest decisions of my career. The first student group of the SAP Academy for Engineering (SAFE) program that I direct was visiting my office in California from China, Brazil, India, Canada, and around the US. With only three weeks left until graduation, and faced with sometimes contradictory coronavirus information that changed on a daily basis, I feared for the students’ health, and that they might be quarantined here in California, separated from their families.

The students received a rude shock when they heard I had decided to send them home. I was saddened to hear their tearful regrets, and at a tearful good-bye dinner (likely the last such event any of us would attend for a while), I asked myself whether I had made the right decision, or whether I had overreacted.

As it turned out, I had indeed made the right choice. Only a day after our students flew home, the US, India, and other countries announced global travel bans. If I had kept them in California, they would have been trapped apart from their families. And over the next few days I received many thanks through email and phone calls.

Although this situation ended well, I must confess that luck and guesswork played a big part. The complexity, novelty, and rapidly-changing nature of the coronavirus could have easily led me astray.

Clearing the Cloud

You might imagine my situation as shown below.  I was faced with a “cloud” of uncertainty about the outcome of my choice last month. I neither had a full grasp of the situation (“context”), nor the consequences of my actions.

It is hard to know the outcomes of our actions in complex and rapidly-changing environments.

In Part 2 of this article, I’ll show you how to solve the problem shown above. Continue to Part 2 >>

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