Ran into this quote from Whitehead:
It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilisation advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.
From Alfred North Whiteheadâ€™s An Introduction to Mathematics, p. 61.
There is an echo of this sentiment in Turing’s approach to artificial intelligence. In any case, I found this quote on the Nudge blog, based on a book by Thaler and Sunstein. A nudge is any environmental cue that disposes a person to a particular response. They describe it like this:
By a nudge we mean anything that influences our choices. A school cafeteria might try to nudge kids toward good diets by putting the healthiest foods at front. We think that it’s time for institutions, including government, to become much more user-friendly by enlisting the science of choice to make life easier for people and by gentling nudging them in directions that will make their lives better.
They call their position ‘libertarian paternalism’ (ugh), and it is all about limiting control in particular ways without compromising freedom of choice. More specifically, it is about how to design environments that foster intelligent decision making. This might be one of those dangerous ideas, but when have you ever had a reason to distrust a Chicago economist?
Some examples and a lecture below.
Social cues are particularly salient nudges, but our machines are getting better at providing motivational feedback. I really like traffic examples as a case of almost seamless human-machine-infrastructure integration, which works really well in the ‘nudge’ vocabulary. For instance:
If white lines are removed from the centre of a road, this also causes traffic to slow down. Removing the footways and sharing the space between car drivers and pedestrians also causes the traffic to slow down. In both cases, this is due to the fact that traffic is no longer being given permission to drive along the road â€“uncertainty causes a reduction in speed. It also makes the road look better. |link|
Nissanâ€™s â€œECO Pedalâ€ system â€” promoted as being both green and safe â€” makes the gas pedal press upward when it senses motorists are speeding up too quickly. Nissan said in a news release Monday the system, which will be available next year, can help drivers improve fuel efficiency 5 to 10 percent.
The system calculates the most efficient rate of acceleration in a vehicle based on how fast fuel is being burned and other factors and causes the gas pedal to push back to alert overzealous drivers. A special meter on the dashboard flashes and changes colors to help drive the message home. |link via AP
Here is Thaler’s Talk@Google that goes into more examples. Thaler refers to Google as the King of Nudges, and points to the “Did you mean…” feature as a key example. I was rather disappointed with Google’s Q&A, and it seems like Thaler should get in touch with someone like Sterling that is specifically interested in the idea of smart design and machine-aided infrastructural planning.