Cognitive Biases Shape Us Beautifully And Tragically
If you could only access a single URL on the web what would it be? Not something like Google or YouTube but actually a single static url — so youtube.com/[some specific video]. I was thinking about this earlier today and my initial framing was “what page is performs the most complex task that I couldn’t do myself,” imagining that optimizing for absolute computing power would be the right angle. It took me a minute or two but I realized this was completely backwards and that I should be trying to figure out what content would be most impactful upon a different type of computing power, namely my own brain.
That flip led me back to a page that I absolutely love, and try to visit quarterly or so, when I want to laugh at myself: Wikipedia’s List of Cognitive Biases.
“A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them and affects the decisions and judgments that they make.” — VeryWellMind
Reviewing this list periodically (as well as reading Robert Cialdini’s Influence, one of my favorite books) always makes me slap my forehead at the ways we are beautifully and stupidly human. Anchoring Bias? Guilty (maybe this very post is an example!). Survivorship Bias? Twice last week that I can remember. And it goes on like that.
Then I shift to wondering about the role of technology in helping us with these biases, and two different paths to doing so. The first is essentially giving up more of our agency and outsourcing an increasing number of our decisions to AI. The second is some sort of listening device (our phone, our watch, our nerd AR glasses) that notices when we’re saying something that fits a cognitive bias and sends an alert to help us reconsider. Frankly *both* are a little freaky to me, but is it really any weirder than me frequently re-reading this Wikipedia list and trying to manually break myself of these biases?
I’m sure we all have a personal redline about things we’d automate and things we wouldn’t. Maybe we like the idea of control over the ‘last mile’ — for example, happy to let a dating app give us top 10 profiles they think matches for us, but we’d prefer to pick the ones we want to connect with versus the same app setting us up with one of the 10. I wonder if these ‘redlines’ are generational (ie younger folks trust the computer more or less than I do), cultural, demographic or more fixed. At the end of the day, we’re all the sum of our cognitive biases.
Notes and More
It’s inspiring to see vaccinations starting to roll out but part of me wonders whether the prioritization framework is actually slowing us down. Whether ‘risk group’ should be accompanied by goals for absolute number of shots given and fastest path to herd immunity. I’m not advocating for myself — I’d gladly be in the last cohort of shots if we could get there as quickly as possible.
📦 Things I’m Enjoying
Finished HBO’s Watchmen, which was great. What should I watch next? Goldbelly is totally my social distancing MVP — we order BBQ from a different place every few weeks. These are the KN95 masks I’ve been using, although there’s now thankfully a bunch of different ones in stock. Mask up!
🏗 Highlighted Homebrew Portfolio Jobs
Tia is healthcare designed for women from the start, combining IRL clinics with URL telehealth. They’re a well-funded post-Series A startup that’s growing quickly to meet the needs of their clients. If you’d like to join the Tia team and build the future of care, they’re hiring.