Are you biased?

My friend Marvin dropped in today on his way down to California and we were discussing artificial intelligence.    Like most of my programming pals he’s much more skeptical than I am about how soon we’ll have conscious computing, but they are also far more knowlegeable about the difficulty of programming complex routines, let alone consciousness.    Of course, they are not nearly as pretty as Google uber-Engineer Marissa Mayer who estimated 10-15 years, so I’m going with her estimate.  

I’m still trying to decide if programmers are viewing things too narrowly by generally assuming that the circumstances required for conscious thought are so very profoundly complex that engineering for them will be nearly impossible.   I prefer the idea that simply having brain-equivalent speedy and massive computational power is going to push machines very close to consciousness after (relatively) simple routines are developed that will create conversations within those systems.  

When I noted that many in the AI community are now wildly optimistic about the prospects for strong AI within 10-20 years, Marvin correctly noted that people in the AI community were predicting strong AI a *long* time ago.   This led to the interesting question of “prediction bias”.    How often in history are predictions  reasonably accurate, and how do the time estimates on those accurate predictions hold up?   This would be a fun mini-research project to do sometime though obviously it would itself be subject to a lot of bias depending on how you picked the criteria, the predictors, and the predictions.

Along those bias lines this great Wikipedia article popped up showing a huge number of cognitive biases.    All of us should take a look at these and reflect on how often we fall into these irrational traps.

2 thoughts on “Are you biased?

  1. Interesting wiki on cognitive biases. Biases are to be found all over the Net (and in all types of communication, really); the bias usually relates to a logical fallacy of some type, however verboten the L-word has become in much discourse. I note the “Bandwagon effect” quite often on political blogs, especially:

    “”””Bandwagon effect — the tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same. Related to groupthink, herd behaviour, and manias.””””

    Business often relies on that effect, I believe: advertisers depend on hype and a certain market-mania, regardless if they are pitching hewlett-packards drives or hula hoops. The entertainment business of course also very big on creating consumer crazes (it’s not just Revenge of the Jedi or Lord of the Rings movie-spectacle, but Revenge of the Jedi and/or Hobbit t-shirts, a travel cup at Burger Mart, action figure, screensaver, etc.).

    The same sort of mania can be perceived on leftist sites, however. The infatuation with the demonic Cheney (and other conservatives) seems related to that Bandwagon effect. Let’s grant that Dick Cheney is not exactly an admirable person. Perhaps he and the Bush Admin. as a whole are guilty of misrepresenting the danger of the Baathists, or of lax security prior to 9-11, other lapses of political ethics. Nonetheless, the leftist blogs such as DailyKOS are not overly concerned with verifying any specific accusations of wrongdoing brought against Cheney and the Bush admin. (or for that matter, against the leading democrats who went along with the war effort (and still do)).

    The Kossack sort of hysteria instead depends on creating this maniacal hatred of Cheney, via cartoonish images, endless insults, defamation, mockery. The factual issues are swept aside, and the cyber-vigilantes call for his hanging, 24/7. Even if one agrees that investigations are in order, the mania and hysterical hatred should be objected to. Some of the AGW people’s resistance to any skepticism towards Gore and IPCC demonstrates a similar sort of dogmatic group behavior; though of course one sees dogmatic group thinking among Xtian fundamentalists for that matter. The groups’ accepted dogma or ideology (whether the group leans left or right, secular or religious) often takes priority over mundane concerns with facts, evidence, data, etc.

    Indeed, the “bandwagon effect”, at least in its more severe forms might be a precursor to mob behavior, or what Nietzsche termed “herd mind.” Nietzsche was aware of the sans-cullottes, who during riots during the French Revolution more or less broke into the mansions of the wealthy and and dragged the Marquis and his family to the guillotine. That herd mind might manifest itself at a political riot, or at sporting events, rock concerts, what have you. A similar sort of maniacal groupmind was to be noted during the LA riots of 92.

  2. Horatiox I agree the Bandwagon effect is really common – in fact I think we may even have some hard wiring to “stick with the pack, right or wrong” because in our savage times this was a more successful strategy than taking a moral high ground. It’s very uncommon for people to report illegal stuff or abuses from within their own group even when they’d jump to report far lesser crimes if they are from outside the group.

    In a civilized society this is a problem. There’s a big problem now in the inner city where crime information is withheld simply because “no snitching” is the prevailing mode even as neighborhoods are destroyed by the very people who are effectively protected by the bystanders who won’t report on them, even anonymously.

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