Intuitive Rationality: pursuing Spock with intuitive artificial intelligence is a book in progress.  It is being written for both the non-scientific public interested in learning more about the process of human decision making, and for the scientist and AI developer, as well.   It will explain how the process of making thousands of subconscious decisions per day affects our behavior and ultimately shapes our reality.  The computer logic of Intuitive Rationality simulates that conscious and subconscious human wiring by continuously processing individual heuristics assigned to twelve fundamental human cognitive biases.  Heuristics are simple, efficient rules that explain how people make decisions, come to judgments, and solve problems typically when facing complex problems or incomplete information.  As new data is inputted from our technical and natural environments, these heuristics update bias values, periodically generate important events and output actionable alerts. 

Intuitive Rationality(R) is our term for the core logic and science of our commercial product, IntualityAI(R).  It is general based on the new field of behavioral economics.  The book will explain its development over 4 decades of research and applications, as a successful anticipator of human decision-making across disparate sectors of complex systems, like the investment markets, sports, health monitoring, elections, public opinion, internet traffic, point-of-sale, mechanical monitoring, and more.  

The following Introduction is written in ‘story’ form to make it interesting for the general reader.  Spock, from Star Trek, is the main character, half human and half Vulcan, a cognitive mix of the pure logic and irrational decision making.  Intuitive Rationality attempts to simulate this cognitive dichotomy by producing successful actionable alerts to the end-user in our real world.

Each chapter following the Introduction will feature one of the twelve biases with a relevant story, using Spock as our lead character. The second section of each chapter will have a technical explanation of each heuristic and its associated bias for the more technial-minded researcher and Ai developer.

The book will be completed for distribution in 2021.

We urge you to register for an early copy offering at the bottom of this page.

Your contact information will be used to only contact you once the book is ready for publication. 

 

Introduction

 

I was at Wal-Mart recently and on my way back out through the parking lot, I saw a strange guy, standing near my car.  He had very pointed ears, a strange hairline and had what can I only describe as a very nerdy look.  He reminded me of someone, but I just could think of the name.

He looked at me with a blank expression as I was loading my groceries into my car and that’s when it hit me.

“Oh,” I said out loud as the memory unfolded in my brain.

I turned to him.

“You’re a Vulcan, right?” I said as the complete memory was forming in my head.

“Why do you think that?” he asked quizzically.

“You’re that Spock guy, aren’t you?” I said, as my memory returned in full.

“I’m afraid you’re falling foul of cognitive bias,” the guy said to me.

“I’m not biased,” I responded immediately, “I have many black and Hispanic friends.”

“No, I’m not talking about ethnic bias,” said the man, “I’m talking about cognitive bias.”

“You see, you have fallen afoul of the availability bias,” he said. “Just because the only person with pointed ears like mine you have ever encountered was in a TV show and came from the fictitious planet of Vulcan, you assume I must be from there. You’re only working from your experience which is very limited. It’s what humans do, Dave.”

“My name is not Dave,” I said snarkily.

“I know it isn’t, Howard,” replied the Spock look-alike.

“How did you know my name? How did you know it wasn’t Dave?”

“Well, if most humans I know were called Dave, I would assume that was your name and it would be another example of availability bias, just like your assumption of me,” said the guy, or whatever he was.

“So, let me get this right,” I said. “You’re saying that my experience prevents me from seeing things from a totally rational point of view?”

“Very good, Howard. That’s exactly what I am saying.”

The man eyed the goods that were still in my cart waiting to be transferred into the back of my car.

“I see you bought a lot of bananas, Howard,” the man said, eyeing my cart. “I bet you bought them because you thought it was a good deal.”

“Of course, this is Wal-Mart. They were a great deal,” I replied.

“But Howard are you really going to eat 25 bananas in the next four days?”  said the guy.

“Probably not, more like 10 days.”

“Howard, half of them will have gone rotten by then and you’ll end up throwing them out.”

Hmm. Perhaps he had a point.

“It’s another example of cognitive bias. Because you were in a place looking for great deals, you were overly influenced by the low price, and bought too many,” said the guy.

“I’m sorry, what’s your name?” I said beginning to feel that this guy was smarter than he looked.

“You can call me Spock,” he said with a slight hint of a smile.

“Ok, Spock,” I said trying to change the subject and all this cognitive bias stuff.  “What do you think of my car. I just bought it the other week and I love it.”

“Of course, you do,” said Spock. “It’s another example of bias. This one’s called the confirmation bias. You’re looking to justify your purchase. Unless the car was running poorly, you would overvalue it because of your choice,” said Spock.

“For God’s sake Spock!” I yelled. “What’s wrong with you? Is everything a damn cognitive bias?!”

“A lot of it. It applies to so much of your thinking and decision-making. However, when you understand the relationship between biases based on your experiences and real facts, you can really understand the world better and you make far better predictions about your world. Like how much money you need for your retirement.”

“Retirement? That’s a long way off. I can’t think about that now,” I replied.

Before Spock could actually speak again, I thought I could read his mind and interjected.

“You’re not going to tell me that’s another cognitive bias, are you?”  I said with some apprehension.

“Actually, it is. It’s called temporal discounting which is a result of undervaluing the future because it’s in the future and doesn’t have emotional resonance right now,” said Spock.

Hmm. Interesting.

“Suppose I wanted to know more about this cognitive bias stuff. Could you tell me more?” I asked Spock.

“Yes, of course. I think it would be extremely helpful to you.”

That’s when Spock and I arranged a time to get together again so I could learn about cognitive bias and how it apparently influences my thinking. I was hoping to be able to make better decisions and predictions. And learn more about this guy called “Spock”.

 

A Starbucks Encounter

Spock and I agreed to meet at the local Starbucks. Honestly, I had some serious reservations about meeting him so publicly, if at all, but in the end, I decided there was nothing to lose. I wanted to learn more about this cognitive bias stuff.

I arrived at Starbucks and looked around. I spotted him, seated at a corner table, poring over what looked like a computer.  I waved back and gestured that I was getting a coffee. He acknowledged me with a hand gesture, and I proceeded to order my venti caramel macchiato.

“Morning Spock, how are things?” I asked, as I sat down at the table.

“Fine, thanks,” I replied. “I bet you weren’t sure whether I was going to show up,” I said.

“No, I was pretty sure you’d come,” Spock replied.

“How so?”

“It’s to do with the risk averse bias,” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked trying to control any emotional reaction to this whole notion of bias that seemed to dominate Spock’s thinking.

“In general people are more averse to risk. They would prefer not to lose $100 than a chance to win the same amount. It’s to do with the way humans are wired. Survival is the most important goal and as a result, they are very, very sensitive to any kind of threat. Their whole system is devised to respond to threat first.”

“What’s that got to do with me showing up here, though?” I asked

“Well, there was very little risk for you. You come here all the time, so if I didn’t show up, there was really nothing lost for you. But if I had asked you to join me at a place you had never been before, that was a 40 minute commute, you would have probably rated that as too risky, as in a possible waste of an important resource – your time.”

“That’s probably true,” I agreed. “And am I right in assuming that when the ratio is less than 2.5:1 people will be more conservative in their choices?”

“On average studies have shown that people will chose to give up possible gains when they are less than 2.1/5 times their perceived risk of loss, “said Spock.

“But what happens if you play it too safe? Don’t you miss out on some possible big rewards and pay-offs?” I asked.

“Yes, when the ratio goes to 3 to 1, the potential gain to possible loss – overall less risky – people will likely chose the “riskier” option.

At this point, one of the baristas called out my name and I went to collect my vente caramel macchiato.

After I had added some sugar to it, I returned to the table to continue my conversation with Spock.

“Ah, isn’t coffee great!” I said. “I guess you know about the studies that have shown that coffee is very good for you and can reduce your risk of Alzheimers?”

“Except that benefit is eliminated if you add milk and sugar to the coffee,” Spock said.

“Well, I’m still guessing there are still some benefits even with the milk and sugar,” I replied.

“Of course, you do,” said Spock, “that’s….”

“Confirmation bias!” I yelled, before he could finish his sentence.

“Well, if we know what influences people’s risk-taking, why don’t we take it into account when making predictions about their choices and preferences? I mean I could see how this would be very useful, in say, adjusting the odds in a gambling situation, or predicting stock market activity,” I ventured to suggest.

“Interesting you should say that. A friend of mine has devised an AI based program that does just that,” Spock said.

“But I can see how that might operate in any situation. For example, When I first came in here, I saw those extra glazed sugar doughnuts but decided against getting one because I am a little concerned about my health. I have been having some palpitations recently, so I decided against the doughnut but allowed myself a creamy coffee with sugar.

“Yes, so you can see how all of these biases interact. Your attention has been drawn to your health by those palpitations – a function of the availability bias. You then justified your coffee choice by the confirmation bias, believing that it was less risky than the doughnut, which it probably was, but not as much as you thought.”

“Wow!” I said. This was mind-blowing, or at least mind revealing.

“But how can you keep track of all these biases and how they interact?”

“Well, that is beyond human functioning, at least in real time. You can’t think about every small detail and check it for bias.  You just have to ensure you do it for the big decisions and take into account the major biases and how they interact. That’s what my friend’s prediction program does. It takes the most important twelve biases and factors them, and their interactions with each other, to simulate human decision-making,” said Spock.

How cool is that.

“What’s your friend’s program called?”

“Intuitive Rationality.”

“Well, how many of these biases are there?” I asked.

“There are lots of them. However, it’s generally much easier to see them in other people than yourself because they often are subconscious,” said Spock. “A friend of mine, William James, called them part of the “fringe of consciousness”, forces that we are really aren’t aware of that influence our thinking process.”

“William James. That name sounds familiar. Was he the guy who invented intuitive rationality?” I asked, while searching my brain from where I had heard the name before.

“No, not really. But he did lay some of the foundations for it, though,” said Spock who seemed to be reading my mind that I was consciously trying to recall where I had heard that name before.

“James? James?” I asked myself. I was beginning to get a glimpse of the answer. “Is he the guy who plays basketball? For the Lakers? The guy with the headband?” I asked tentatively.

“No, no,” said Spock. “William James was a nineteenth century psychologist.”

“Of course!” I yelled, as vague memories from my introductory class in psychology, formed in my consciousness.

“Wait a minute. I thought you said you knew him?” I frowned in confusion.

“I do. It’s complicated, Howard. Let’s just stick with cognitive bias before we get on to the space-time continuum,” Spock said. “In any event you’ll need to understand cognitive bias before you start studying time travel.”

“I will?” I asked despondently.

“Have you ever heard of temporal discounting?” Spock asked. He wasn’t changing the subject exactly, more his approach.

“Temporal discounting? Hmm. Is that when you get a discount when buying something if you put it on lay-away?” I ventured to guess.

“Almost. Temporal discounting is the human tendency to minimize and undervalue events that are in the future,” said Spock. “So, if I said you have a year to learn all about cognitive bias, you wouldn’t be too concerned because a year is a long time and there’s no pressure in the moment. As a result, you would undervalue the future and put things off today.”

“I can see that. I have done that before. It took me a long time to quit smoking when I was younger because the negative consequences of smoking seemed so far off in the future that I minimized the importance of quitting. But what does that have to do with time travel?”

“Humans can’t time travel, but other species can. If you can travel across time, the future, even the distant future, is never far away and so those species don’t have temporal discounting,” explained Spock.

“So, the past, present and future are different for them because those tenses don’t mean the same to them as they do to us earthlings.”

“Exactly, Howard,” confirmed Spock. “Each species has their own biases based on the priorities of their brain and how their brain and bodies work.”

“But how does such temporal discounting affect everyday life? It seems a bit esoteric to me.”

“Well,” said Spock, “You just mentioned your experience with smoking. Many people delay attending to their health issues because the serious consequences seem so far in the future. But it doesn’t take long before those symptoms appear and by then valuable time has been lost. And how about saving money for retirement? Many people don’t do that because that day seems so far off. However, most retirement funds are about gradual accumulation over time. If you start saving when you’re 25, and keep the funds generating income year after year, in 40 years you will have amassed a lot of money. If you start when you’re 50, there’s no way you can accumulate anywhere near that amount because you have lost 25 years of investment.”

“I can see that. It seems as if temporal discounting is a dangerous and distorting mindset. It can mean you leave it too late to effectively address a problem.”

“Yes, indeed. Think about climate change,” said Spock. “Temporal discounting not only delays action; it actually leads to people denying the problem. It’s a human failing that unless people can actually see it, whatever it is, they doubt it, often to their detriment.”

“I guess that what makes prediction so difficult and so important,” I added.

“Humans are too easily led by what they want to believe,” said Spock. “That’s why these biases are so critical.  The confirmation bias is so strong, and humans don’t realize how much they are fooling themselves. It only comes back to hurt them in the end. Humans are more concerned about feeling good than being right. It’s a very short-sighted and short-term way of thinking.”

“Why do you think we are so sensitive – and stupid?” I asked.

“It’s just the way your brains and minds have evolved. The human brain is very limited, but, of course, you earthlings don’t see it that way, because you arguably have the most advanced minds on the planet in which you live,” said Spock.

At this point, the guy who had been sitting at the next table, stood up and leaned down to talk to Spock.

“I’ve been sitting here listening to you for the last twenty minutes,” he said aggressively, focusing on Spock’s eyes. “I’d rather be a real human not a psychotic nerd like you!  Seriously, dude, what planet are you from? All this bias shit! Humans are the most rational people in the universe. You need to get a real life!” And with that he threw his coffee cup in the trash and stomped out, muttering loudly to himself.

“Confirmation bias in action,” I volunteered.

“Yes, but how do you think he would have reacted if, instead of hearing this at Starbucks from a nerdy looking stranger, he had consulted his favorite source of information and wisdom?”

“You mean Facebook?” I smiled.

“Yes, that sort of thing,” replied Spock

“I guess it’s all about context?” I conjectured.

“Yes, human beings are too influenced by context. Don’t get me wrong, Howard, context is important, but it is often overvalued by humans. They have a tough time looking beyond the present, or even the obvious,” said Spock with a pained expression. “For example, Humans have the anchoring bias. Which means that the first thing that is mentioned, discussed or thought about anchors the discussion or thought process,” said Spock.

“Do you mean like in a negotiation? If I want to buy something from you and you say it will cost $50, that number anchors the negotiation?”

“Yes, exactly. That’s somewhat a function of the fact that human beings can only focus on one thing at a time. Earthlings can’t hold several numbers or facts or ideas in your heads simultaneously, which leads to the anchoring bias. Now, some species can hold many concepts in their consciousness simultaneously, and they don’t have an anchoring bias.”

“So, it’s all about stepping outside the limits of our consciousness, then. That William James idea of the “fringe of consciousness”? I suggested.

“Yes. Imagine if you had access to a file of all your ideas and beliefs, where they originated, their factual support and how synchronous they were to each other,” said Spock.

“Wow! What a mind-blowing concept! I bet Google has something like that in development,” I suggested.  Spock said nothing, nor did he even flinch.

“Talk about introspection and insight! That is so cool! You could look up exactly when you started to hate the New England Patriots or like blondes, and why! Oh my God!” I was completely blown away by the idea.

“Well, at the very least it would make earthlings humbler,” added Spock. “How many times have you thought you knew the reason for doing or believing something and then found out your perception was wrong. It hopefully would make you more realistic about your cognitive capacities.”

“That would also influence the availability bias, too, then?” I suggested. “If we had access to multiple sources of information, we would be less influenced by what is easily available,” I suggested.

“Very good, Howard!” Spock said in a surprised tone that was a little disconcerting. He continued. “However, you would have to be willing to refer to these alternative sources, not just stuck with the ones that were easily available.”

“So, does every species have the tendency to seek the meaning in everything? As we’re talking it seems to me that our consciousness is all about trying to make sense of what is happening to us?” I asked.

“That’s a great and complex question, Howard. Yes, for the most part all species are somewhat geared to see the patterns that are meaningful to them. So, for example, what a whale will attend to is different from what a gorilla will pay attention to. We will only seek meaning and patterns in the things that are important to our survival,” explained Spock.

“What about species with more advanced consciousness, though. Don’t they have the ability to influence the innate, survival process?” I asked.

“Well, there’s the irony, Howard. Despite having a consciousness that potentially allows them to look beyond these programmed processes, humans still are slave to habitual thinking. They have a tough time knowing that they can know about their thinking and changing it,” argued Spock.

Is there a name for this tendency to be consciously unconscious and not realize how habitual and biased our thinking is?” I asked.

“Well, there’s the symmetry bias. As we have discussed, Human beings are constantly trying to make sense of everything. They look for symmetry to find meaning and are therefore overly influenced by the need for trends and meaning. Other multi-sensorial species with different consciousness characteristics don’t need that symmetry and therefore don’t show the bias.”

“It seems like there have been wise humans in the past who recognized this, though?”

“Well, Socrates said, ‘The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.’”

“Is Socrates a friend of yours, too?” I questioned.

“No, I have never met him, if that’s what you mean,” said Spock reassuringly.

There was a pause before Spock spoke again.

Do you know who said, “Knowledge speaks but wisdom listens?” Spock asked.

I thought about it.

“Buddha?”

“No, not Buddha.”

“Confucius?”

Spock shook his head vertically.

“Jesus?”

Spock again shook his head.

“Tolstoy?”

Spock didn’t even bother shaking his head.

“Shakespeare?”

No.

“Aristotle?”

No.

“Plato?”

Spock shook his head from side to side.

When it was clear that this wasn’t the right answer either I gave up.

“Who was it?” I asked.

Spock looked at me and after a short pause gave me the answer.

“Jimi Hendrix”.

“No Way!” I said, breaking out into a laugh.

“Why not?” asked Spock. “Wisdom isn’t only for Greeks and geeks.”

“It’s just that I don’t think of Jimi Hendrix as a philosopher,” I said.

“So, you see, there you go again, Howard. You’re stereotyping.”

“Anyone with consciousness theoretically can make some very insightful statements,” said Spock.

“Oh, yeah, like Yogi Berra,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“Hey, Howard, Yogi was a smart guy. He actually said things that challenged people’s binary and habitual thinking.”

“Like what?”

“Well, people laughed at his comment, ‘it’s like déjà vu all over again’, said Spock. “But why can’t you have more than one déjà vu experience?”

“I guess, “ I said needing to think more about it.

“I saw Yogi play in some of the Yankees world series games,” said Spock. “He was a very good catcher.”

“I bet you knew Jimi Hendrix, too?” I asked rhetorically.

“Actually, I did. I met him at Woodstock. A very nice man,” said Spock

“So, how does all of this apply to intuitive rationality?” I asked.

“Well, as you saw earlier from the gentleman sitting next to us, humans don’t understand their thinking is a combination of intuition, the fringes of consciousness and rationality. So, any real understanding of human behavior, let alone prediction, needs to take these factors and the biases that drive them, into account.

“So, the creator of Intuitive Rationality cleverly focused on 12 core cognitive biases of humans. These are the biases that most influence human thought and perception. Can you guess which twelve they are?” Spock asked in a moment of supreme optimism.

“Well, let me think,” I said, playing for more time. “I’m guessing the availability bias, confirmation bias, anchoring bias, symmetry bias, risk-avoidance, temporal discounting…”

“Temporal discounting isn’t in there, probably because the creator of Intuitive Rationality didn’t see it as a core influencer,” said Spock. “But you’re right about the others.”

“There are also some other important ones. Biases like the environment, the hot hand fallacy and memory decay,” said Spock.

“Hot hand fallacy? Is that anything to do with putting your hand on a stove?” I wondered out loud.

“No. It has a lot to do with your basketball player James.”

“What? How?”

“Well, if a basketball player on your team makes six shots in a row, would you want to keep giving him the ball to take shots, or try to keep the ball away from him?” asked Spock.

“Keep giving him the ball, of course. He has the hot hand…. Oh, I see,” I said as I made the connection.

“But what if his usual shooting percentage is not 100% but 35%?” asked Spock. “Surely, if anything, he is about to miss a lot of shots, isn’t he?” asked Spock.

“I guess you have a point there,” I conceded, not realizing the pun.

“You see, the emotional, intuitive side of you humans embraces the emotion of the continued success and wants to seek symmetry in it continuing. The more rational side of you might concede that he is ultimately going to miss some shots but on balance you would want to have him keep shooting until he missed because it satisfies symmetry and emotional needs,” explained Spock.

“I hope I’ll be able to remember all of this stuff,” I admitted honestly to Spock.

“Now that’s a good point. Human memory decays much quicker than you imagine. Just because you heard something once, or learned something once, doesn’t mean you’ll remember it forever. In fact, your memory will decay much quicker because human memory is unreliable and influenced by many factors. So, Intuitive rationality has programming that does the same thing to data trends, it “forgets” them, like memory decay,” explained Spock.

“Well, that makes sense to me. Memories are context dependent and if you kept applying the same conclusion from different data sets, you might be led astray. For example, I typically don’t stay in Starbucks a few minutes but here we are thirty minutes after I sat down,” I said.

Spock then went on to tell me about how the creator of Intuitive Rationality, understood there were data and facts that were measurable, but that the quality of that data also had to be considered. Just because you have some rational facts, doesn’t mean that they are very useful to the issue you are considering. Quality had to be factored in as much as quantity.

I then asked him another question.

“So, how does this fit in with Artificial intelligence?”

“Interesting question and I’ll give you some simple answers,” said Spock reassuringly.

“There are various types of AI.  The first consists of reactive machines that simply respond to a given input. The second are limited- memory machines that are trained to do a very specific function. A lot of current AI on earth is like that,” Spock explained.

“Please can you tell me what you are calling about? Press 1 to make a payment, Press 2 to get your account balance and press 3 to speak to a representative, “ I mimicked. Spock wasn’t terribly amused and continued without missing a beat.

“Then there’s Theory of Mind AI in which the system will be able to discern and respond to different human cues, like emotions. Humans are still working hard on that and it’s the next version that you’ll see,” said Spock

“The fourth stage is the development of self-aware AI that would have the same abilities as humans but at potentially much faster speeds, which would give them an advantage. However, no need to worry yet. That is a very long way off here on planet Earth.”

“But it sounds like Intuitive Rationality is a predictive version of self-aware AI in that it simulates human decision-making. Is that right?” I asked.

“Yes, that is correct. It’s not advanced intelligence but it does a great job of simulating human thinking around the concept of predictions.”