Ted Danson does Decision Intelligence in The Good Place

As I write about in Link, and as we discussed in the Responsible AI/DI Summit Science Fiction Panel last week, DI must be democratized—understood by everyone—to maximize its value and to ensure that we minimize negative consequences. Fiction: television, novels, movies, and more, are therefore critical for its positive impact on the world. With Season 3, Episode 10 of Michael Schur’s The Good Place, this has happened, to my knowledge, for the first time.

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Reformed demon Michael (Danson) doesn’t understand why, for over 500 years, all humans, upon death, have been assigned to The Bad Place (hell) instead of The Good Place (heaven). Assuming at first that the system has been rigged, Michael realizes in this scene that it is, instead, the world itself that has changed.

Source: The Good Place, S03E10

In a complex world, actions have negative unintended consequences, and so the simple act of buying roses for your mother can create greater net harm than good.

“Don’t you understand? The Bad Place isn’t tampering with points. They don’t have to. Because every day the world gets a little more complicated, and being a good person gets a little harder.”

Ted Danson as Michael, The Good Place, S03E10

More from the series:

After his realization, Michael’s makes his case to The Judge. The Good Place, S03E11

“Humans think that they’re making one choice, but they’re actually making dozens of choices they don’t even know they’re making.”

Ted Danson as Michael, The Good Place, S03E11

Previous episodes that explain the system in more detail:

Janet (the AI) and Michael meet Doug Forcett, who’s been optimizing for the current scoring system, but whose “good place” points aren’t high enough to get him in. Because unintended consequences.
Michael and Janet meet the Accountant, who describes the accounting system that measures the value of “the action: its use of resources, the intention behind it, its effect on others”. “This score is then double-checked by 3 billion accountants, all chosen at random..” Kind of a Wikipedia for action analysis. Sound familiar? This is what we’re building here at Q. Let’s talk, Jimmy Wales :-).

Note that the above scenes includes Janet (D’arcy Carden): an AI that supports the season’s characters in fixing the system. In other words, actions and DI with an AI to assist. Sound familiar? The fact that teams as diverse as Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and more are thinking along the same lines is a good indication that we’re onto something here 🙂

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 www.lorienpratt.com.

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