Sunday, August 16, 2020

Decisions vs Repercussions - Can we cure the coronavirus without making the planet even sicker?

Decisions vs Repercussions - Can we cure the coronavirus without making the planet even sicker?

Try to remember how you learned to play chess, if you did as I did, you started by creating particular strategies in order to take the opponent's king, as well as protect your pieces during the whole game. Sometimes the apprentice will make one or other brilliant move, but the vast majority of them will reflect his/her inexperience in bad and inconsequential moves.

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Right now, we are facing an unprecedented crisis that requires unprecedented decision making, just like the chess apprentice above, the whole world tries to protect itself from the contamination of the coronavirus until a cure and/or a vaccine is found, one of the best ways to do this is using masks or other plastic PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). With regard to masks, according to the World Economic Forum, there has been an increase in production and sales to date, which reaches an astonishing 20,000%.

It is curious that, in the face of an unprecedented and serious problem, we seem to neglect the repercussions of the decision. The solution found at the moment seems to be the best course of action, but later on it shows itself as weak, with only one step of repercussive reach, with badly or completely unanticipated consequences and in the end, it gives us little or no margin for side effects corrections.

Why does this happen?

The human brain processes 11 million bits of sensory information every second, but only 40 to 120 of them rise to the conscious mind to be evaluated and rationalised. Our brain operates with a limited amount of energy, like any other entity in nature, adopting the fastest and most efficient course of action, to program in our minds the anticipation of events, in order to be prepared for them.

As children, when we left the house our mothers used to say, "Don't forget your sweater", even knowing that live in a tropical country I heard that a lot. This sort of warnings may have come from the repercussions of several generations of mothers prior to mine, who possibly lost their children inadvertently of hypothermia.

This has its advantages, imagine entering a jungle and being forced to evaluate each photon of light received, trying to discern if there is danger behind each of the 20,500 leaves on the surrounding trees like poisonous little frogs or insects, not to mention snakes, large felines and other predators. It would take days before we took our first step, making of us an easy prey for them.

When we enter such a forest, our minds choose to assess risks that can actually harm us, information that can be obtained from survivors' reports or personal learning of previous visits to that forest, reducing the tens of thousands of assessments of pertinent hazards to only the 20 most dangerous of them - such as bees, snakes and cougars (you could even be hit by a meteorite in a forest, but the chances of that happening are so low that it is not part of the 'mental risk prevention plan designed for  that particular forest').

This may have helped us a lot in prehistoric times, but with the large amount of info that we need to take decisions in modern world, this primitive decision-making process has proved to be insufficient.
On a scale from 01 to infinity, we can measure how much a decision taken can have an impact on the future, where level 01 is totally inconsequential, generating all sorts of unwanted events, exponentially increasing to level 10, a decision with a certain degree of weighting, without major future side effects and a deterministic (hypothetical) nationalization in which all contingencies were anticipated, leaving only well designed and successful effects, precisely calculated.

It took 4.5 billion to man stand out from other living beings thanks to newly acquired linguistic, rational and planning skills, and have protagonist role on the planet, nevertheless, we still behave like the chess apprentice above, we still make naive and awkward mistakes, which if not well observed, can lead to serious repercussions on the balance of life on Earth.

Sometimes one person with an above-average perception anticipates one or more degrees of repercussions in some decision-making, which can move us away from the scenario of total inconsequence towards the ideological integral determinism status, (hypothetical situation in which all contingencies are anticipated, creating perfect decision making scenario). Unfortunately, not always, they are in the official circuit of decision makers, or when they are, they don't have enough strength to make their ideas prevail, revealing to us another defect of the human being that is very prejudicial in decision-making, the psychological difficulties of dealing with feelings like ego, fear, job insecurity and arrogance.

How should we make our next decisions?

Of course, we already have some tools that help us make decisions in the face of complex and unusual situations. In the case of public administration, for instance, we chose the expedient of adopting political parties as a way to creating anticipations of situations of right, left and center profile - this made it easier for right-wing politicians to identify risks to the social hierarchy, family and homeland, while Left-wing politicians react more effectively to risks and violations of the rights of the disadvantaged in society.

It might have worked in the past, but as in the aphorism of the elephant in the room, making decisions regarding part of the whole as true is retrograde and too much simplistic. We need a broader, democratic and less self-serving model than the current one.

If we combine several sciences learned so far aimed to a chosen purpose, say ... public administration, perhaps we can create a system of evaluation and decision-making that is more consistent with today's world:

- Social networks and APPs can be used in order to include a wide range of experts, to formulate possible solutions, covering multiple points of view, from various different sectors and sciences, with opinions from lots of qualified people, creating an 'environment of broad participation - wiki', significantly increasing statistically the number and the quality of possible final solutions;

- Artificial Intelligence (AI systems) combined with a historical database of previous decision-making, added to the multiple solutions obtained in the above proposition, could test alternatives in milliseconds and give us results of events at various levels of consequences, anticipating not just two or three, but multiple steps ahead;

- Psychologists could evaluate and monitor the final decision makers, creating a more comprehensive panel that is less contaminated with personal biases, so that they make decisions that effectively improve the community.

If we act quickly, and use a little more of our civilizatory capabilities in order to solve unexpected problems, we may still have time to come up with a plausible solution to the imbalance caused by plastic waste in the planet, cure the humanity from coronavirus and still, at the same time, generate an unexpected and unusual extra benefit to the planet Earth.


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