Saturday, April 1, 2017

Choice and Artificial Agents: The Company You Keep

From Inverse, March 30:
People really do act like part of the herd, even if that herd is made up of secret robots: In a new study on unconscious influences, researchers found that people imitate the impatient, lazy, or prudent attitudes of others when making decisions — but they also have no idea that it’s happening. To most people, the scientists report, feeling that way was just the obvious choice.

In a paper released Thursday in PLOS Computational Biology, a team of French researchers explains how they combined mathematical modeling and cognitive psychology to study whether outside attitudes really did influence people’s decisions. In the study, they asked 56 participants to make a series of fake financial decisions that involved making choices about risks and rewards. Before some of the decisions, however, the subjects saw what choices “artificial agents” made on the same problems, and afterward they recorded the attitude in which they would approach the task. (The artificial choices were made by an A.I. algorithm, but the study subjects thought they had been made by a human.)

After analyzing the results, the researchers found a direct relationship between the attitudes and decisions of the human subjects and those of the artificial agents. This revealed to the researchers that the people were subject to a “false-consensus bias” — the idea that people can “believe without evidence that the attitudes of others resemble their own,” as the researchers put it. If the artificial agent was prudent and didn’t risk much in their financial bet, so would the humans. If they were patient when making the choice, the humans were as well. Meanwhile, the participants were unaware their decisions were biased....