".. This is known as the risk compensation effect, and it refers to the fact that people tend to take increased risks when using protective equipment. It’s been found among bicycle riders (people go faster when wearing helmets), taxi drivers and children running an obstacle course (safety gear leads kids to run more “recklessly.”) ...
Akerlof and Shiller use the word “phish” to mean a form of angling, by which phishermen (such as banks, drug companies, real estate agents, and cigarette companies) get phools (such as investors, sick people, homeowners, and smokers) to do something that is in the phisherman’s interest, but not in the phools’. There are two kinds of phools: informational and psychological. Informational phools are victimized by factual claims that are intentionally designed to deceive them (“it’s an old house, sure, but it just needs a few easy repairs”). More interesting are psychological phools, led astray either by their emotions (“this investment could make me rich within three months!”) or by cognitive biases (“real estate prices have gone up for the last twenty years, so they’re bound to go up for the next twenty as well”).
magine that (for some reason involving cultural tradition, family pressure, or a shotgun) you suddenly have to get married. Fortunately, there are two candidates. One is charming and a lion in bed but an idiot about money. The other has a reliable income and fantastic financial sense but is, on the other fronts, kind of meh. Which would you choose?
Sound like six of one, half-dozen of the other? Many would say so. But that can change when a third person is added to the mix. Suppose candidate number three has a meager income and isn’t as financially astute as choice number two. For many people, what was once a hard choice becomes easy: They’ll pick the better moneybags, forgetting about the candidate with sex appeal. On the other hand, if the third wheel is a schlumpier version of attractive number one, then it’s the sexier choice that wins in a landslide. This is known as the “decoy effect”—whoever gets an inferior competitor becomes more highly valued.
The decoy effect is just one example of people being swayed by what mainstream economists have traditionally considered irrelevant noise. After all, their community has, for a century or so, taught that the value you place on a thing arises from its intrinsic properties combined with your needs and desires. It is only recently that economics has reconciled with human psychology. The result is the booming field of behavioral economics, pioneered by Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist at Princeton University, and his longtime research partner, the late Amos Tversky, who was at Stanford University.
Automation, in this context, is a force pushing old principles towards breaking point. If I can build a car that will automatically avoid killing a bus full of children, albeit at great risk to its driver’s life, should any driver be given the option of disabling this setting? And why stop there: in a world that we can increasingly automate beyond our reaction times and instinctual reasoning, should we trust ourselves even to conduct an assessment in the first place?
Beyond the philosophical friction, this last question suggests another reason why many people find the trolley disturbing: because its consequentialist resolution presents not only the possibility that an ethically superior action might be calculable via algorithm (not in itself a controversial claim) but also that the right algorithm can itself be an ethically superior entity to us.
George Akerlof and Robert Shiller believe that once we understand human psychology, we will be a lot less enthusiastic about free markets and a lot more worried about the harmful effects of competition. In their view, companies exploit human weaknesses not necessarily because they are malicious or venal, but because the market makes them do it.
But just as we should avoid importing existing gender and sexual biases into future technology, so we should also be cautious not to import established prudishness. Lack of openness about sex and sexual identities has been a source of great mental and social anguish for many people, even entire societies, for centuries. The politics behind this lack of candor is very damaging.
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