Ready Player One, Ernest Cline’s first novel (soon to be adapted to film by Steven Spielberg), portrays a futuristic dystopian society who consumed all the energetic resources on earth and spends most of its time emerged in a Virtual Reality platform, the Oasis.
Besides the brilliant references and tributes to the 80’s presented in the book, the author also makes some propositions about the role Artificial Intelligence will play in our lives in a (not so) distant future.
In this universe, customer service functions almost entirely in the VR world. Instead of going to the physical stores to complain about a product or a service, the customers only have to put on their VR headsets and introduce their requests and complaints to a virtual assistant (who is operated anywhere else in the world by another human being).
In one of the book’s’ chapters, an interaction between a customer and an IT assistant takes place inside of the Oasis. When the assistant gets tired of his repetitive daily tasks, he decides to insult the customer and tells him to shut up. The platform, coded with state of the art Artificial Intelligence, immediately mutes the human operator and generates a more pleasant message.
This anecdote (which, in the book, is much funnier and has many more layers) represents one of the big questions of the present technological paradigm:
How exactly will Artificial Intelligence complement (and enhance) human behavior?
Cognitive Biases – How your brain tricks you
The human brain is as fascinating as it is complex. We know nearly as much about it as we know about outer space and we still have a long way to go in order to fully understand it.
Our brains control our fundamental body functions and with enough computing power left over to contemplate Science, Art, History, and all the other Trivial Pursuit’s categories.
But, as amazing as this biological achievement may sound, we still have a lot of limitations when it comes to making decisions.
Absorbing information can be absolutely overwhelming. That’s why sometimes we have a really hard time understanding reality, even when we have all the data and evidence needed to form an accurate view. These thinking errors, known in Psychology as Cognitive Biases, can be qualified into different types and are inherent to the human condition.
They can affect our personal day-to-day life, for example when we accept a product’s price based exclusively on its pre-sale value (Anchoring Effect) or just because it’s a bestseller (Bandwagon Effect).
Similarly, they can do some serious damage to your company. That’s why it is important to consider cognitive biases when planning the next steps of your business. It will help you save a lot of time and money in the future.
We have all been there, right?
“I am never flying with this airline company again! They sure deserve all those bad reviews on their website!
The flight was delayed, there wasn’t enough room for my legs, they forgot my vegan meal and the movies available were all terrible.
My travel manager is to blame for this catastrophe. I should never have hired him in the first place. I mean, he was late for our first meeting! How irresponsible! It was obvious that he was going to disappoint me again…
Maybe I should book my flights and plan my own trips. I can do it better than anyone! And plus, I know a lot of companies that have no travel manager and never had any problem.
I’ll tell everyone at the office about this. I hope they didn’t start today’s meeting without me. Traffic’s crazy this morning.
You know what I’m talking about. We have all been there, right?”
No, we haven’t. But it’s good that you asked!
Unconsciously assuming that everyone shares the same thoughts and opinions is one of the most common cognitive biases. It’s essential to understand that everyone is different and we all wear different shoes, so to speak.
Avoiding this cognitive bias is very important when visiting a different city. What is known as “normal behavior” in one country can be considered completely inappropriate in other parts of the world. A few fun facts:
- In South America, you should never flush the toilet paper. Due to the general inefficiency of the sewage systems, even in most hotels, you should always (really, always) drop it in the trash bin by the sink. Locals aren’t pleased when you don’t do it (believe me);
- Don’t be offended if someone spits near you in China. It’s not an unacceptable behavior in the Chinese culture;
- When in Tibet, greet people by sticking out your tongue. People need to know that you are not a 9th-century king;
That is why it is so important to study and gather all the possible information and data before making a decision.
But be careful! There’s a problem when seeking out too much information before you take action. In fact, the problem has a name. It’s called Information Bias.
When it comes to making decisions with incomplete information, there is a big difference between being cautious and being stuck. “Lack of sufficient information” is a common excuse to do nothing when we are uncertain about the future.
The opposite is equally dangerous and also very common. Ignoring negative information (such as bad reviews on a company’s website) is like burying one’s head in the sand. That’s why this particular bias is called The Ostrich Effect.
Data is the new oil and the ability to craft it is not only available to big corporates anymore. Diverse Artificial Intelligence-enhanced platforms are enabling small and medium-sized businesses to explore the many possibilities brought by Big Data, Data Mining, and Machine Learning.
Your company will benefit if you stick to what is relevant. Better data, better decisions. And better decisions generally lead to better outcomes. But not always, though.
Judging a decision based only on the outcome may generate unfair situations and inefficient arrangements for your company.
For example, it’s not always fair to blame your travel manager for the delay of your flight or the misunderstanding with your vegan meal.
There are a lot of factors influencing every situation. Thus, sometimes even our best effort results in the worst case scenario.
Be thorough and keep an open mind. Try to see the big picture. If you really think about it, how many airplanes provide a comfortable amount of room for our legs? Isn’t this just a confirmation?
As much as we try, we will never be able to get rid of preconceived notions. It’s in our nature. We tend to focus on information that confirms our perception (disregarding opposing information as irrelevant) and that can be a problem.
We don’t always do it intentionally or even knowingly, and that’s why it is very important to battle with our own brain and try to see situations from multiple angles.
In this particular case, the travel manager can be blamed for some things but the lack of legroom is not one of them.
And if you only look for the travel manager’s faults, like the time he was late for a meeting, that’s also a Confirmation Bias. And a Fundamental Attribution Error.
Fundamental Attribution Error
On a corporate level, this cognitive bias is particularly dangerous when it comes to employee performance evaluation.
It represents our tendency to explain someone’s behavior based on internal factors such as personality or character – e.g. when explaining why someone else is unemployed, we are more likely to pick internal traits, such as laziness or irresponsibility, rather than external, situational circumstances (Economy, HR paradigm, etc.).
When explaining our own behavior, we tend to do the exact opposite. We are more likely to justify our actions with external factors (like the traffic that will make us be late for that meeting) and give less emphasis to our personal attributes. Which sometimes, is an example of Overconfidence.
“Maybe I should book my flights and plan my own trips. I can do it better than anyone!”
Quite self-explanatory, this cognitive bias corresponds to the big mistake of being too confident in our own abilities. It is not easy to empirically verify it but it can have disastrous results.
Self-evaluation is a very difficult process and it’s seldom accurate. We either favor too much our accomplishments and tend to forget our failures or we do the exact opposite.
Which is, to put it technically, an example of an Availability Heuristic.
We sometimes overestimate the importance of the information we hold. Knowing someone who smoked every day for 100 years doesn’t make smoking a healthy habit. Just like knowing other companies that operate well without a travel manager doesn’t necessarily make it a good decision to do the same.
In the decision making process, it’s vital to consider all the relevant information available and never close our eyes to the (sometimes inconvenient) truths of cold-minded logic.
Either on a personal or on a corporate/organizational level, fighting cognitive biases like the ones presented above is of paramount importance to the efficiency of our decisions.
Oh, and speaking of efficiency, have you met Claire?
Claire – Keeping biases out of Business Travel
The Artificial Intelligence Revolution is here and there’s no point in trying to deny it (let’s not be like the ostrich).
If you are a travel manager or a business owner, Claire can help you overcome the inherent limitations of the Human condition by selecting the most relevant data, analyzing patterns, and delivering analytics reports that will make you learn and improve the quality and efficiency of your decisions.
Claire also represents the perks of using Artificial Intelligence to upgrade the customer service of small and medium – sized businesses. She is the assistant who always shows the same values, no matter the situation. She provides real-time insights into travel analytics and delivers a customer experience of excellence.
And, on the top of all these, she is absolutely bias-free.
Make better decisions. Meet Claire.