J^T: John Thywissen's personal pages

Decision Theory

Decision making under risk and uncertainty is treated in many statistical writings, but they are not used in day-to-day decision making. In fact, most decision makers are uninformed regarding these "basic and standard" concepts.

Decision theory depends on our belief in the validity of deductive and inductive reasoning, which is covered by epistemology.

Thywissen, John A. Decision Theory [Web page]. Plano (TX): c2007 [revised 2007 Nov 17; cited 2017 Dec 13]. Available from: http://john.thywissen.org/decisions.html


Kahneman, Daniel; Slovic, Paul; Tversky, Amos, editors. Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. Cambridge University Press; 1982. 544 p. ISBN: 0521284147.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in the Markets and in Life. 2nd ed. Texere: 2004. 312 p. ISBN: 158799190X.

Bush, Vannevar. As we may think. The Atlantic Monthly 176, 1 (July 1945), 641-649.

J^T Thoughts

Intuition is a great decision basis for some decisions, but demonstrated to be horrible in other areas. Decision makers should learn when to use it and when to call for more rigorous methods.

Standard debate techniques, or basic rules of logic, should be applied throughout an organization's thought process. Unfortunately, most people are poorly trained in how to use their mind.

Familiarity with the basics behavior of samples from populations (i.e. statistics) is needed to draw valid conclusions from observations, understand confidence levels, and spot liars.

This vital knowledge should be ingrained to everyone from middle school on, but is missing from nearly everyone. How do we fix this critical learning deficiency?

Decision Making Augmentation

How can decision making be strengthened and clarified by technology?

Humans’ capability to make sound decisions is critical to our individual survival and survival as a species. Despite its criticality, our decision faculty is inconsistent. It is capable of correct “snap” judgments in many circumstances, but in other cases it is subject to biases and fallacies. Yet, there is scant technological support for the actual decision making act.

Computing technology has provided dramatically useful abilities to perform computational work and to capture and find information. For example, Google has far exceeded the capabilities of Vannevar Bush’s memex envisioned in his renowned 1945 essay.

In the same essay, Bush mentions “We may some day click off arguments on a machine with the same assurance that we now enter sales on a cash register.” That day has not yet arrived.

Suppose that we relax the goal to create systems that reason completely automatically, and instead consider systems that augment humans’ decision capabilities. These systems would operate in a supporting role, helping users to structure and validate assertions.

The function of such systems would focus on avoiding known common fallacies. For example, intuitive probability estimates of individual events may be accurate in areas of a user’s experience. However, intuition often is misleading for probability of combinations of events and for conditional probabilities. These systems could aid their users by computing these type of composite probabilities.

Arguments processed in such a system would be composed of a mix of user-supplied assertions along with system generated or validated conclusions. Components of an argument could be marked as rigorous when system-validated and other components as non-rigorous if the user determines validation is not desirable presently. Representing the entire structure of an argument, even parts not rigorously validated, would help maintain the integrity of the matter under consideration.

For the user, the system could be presented the metaphor of a workshop in which one crafts a valid argument using tools such as the composite probability calculator mentioned above. Tools would be constructed based on areas of human weaknesses, as identified by decision science and psychology research.

...[continue? or, is this enough?]...

Related work has been ongoing in a number of fields, for example:

...[Develop a sketch of the research work program here]...

...[Specifically, the intent is to integrate with humans better, not to develop new decision theory]...

Obviously, improving decision making has broad applicability. Here are a few examples that fit this approach: