Question-Can New Technology Improve Decision Making?

2 Oct

Having recently received funding for research into technology enabled decision making I thought I’d address a question an equity trader asked me the other day- Can the latest technology actually improve decision making? What follows is not an answer but some insight into decision making and technology, the “answers” will appear soon.

Underpinning decision making is situational awareness (SA). SA is the real time, ever evolving understanding of a person’s awareness of “what is going on”(Endsley, 1995). Endsley’s (1995) three level model provides both a good introduction and a usable method for understanding SA; the models three levels are-

1) Perception of the elements- the perceiving of data
2) Comprehension of the current situation- the translation of level 1 data into elements which allow its (data’s) relevance to a particular task to be understood
3) Forecasting- this is the highest stage of “processing” , drawing upon experience derived mental models to produce a forecast of the likely future states of the situation

When a person has relevant expert experience they are able to anticipate future states to a high degree of accuracy and so makes good decisions. Any new technology creates a new dynamic and so a new experience. This is specific to any task or role but the most important point is that it needs to support situational awareness (which comes from experience) and not contaminate it.

There are numerous examples of where a new technology has damaged decision making through the corruption of existing, and highly effective, SA. Significantly, new technology can also undermine one of its key aims- discoveries. This occurs by over focusing the level 1, perception stage, and thus reduces comprehension and arising leverage points. In other words, it can potentially narrow the view too much, leading to an over focus on data and not enough on trial and error analysis. A little like driving off a cliff thanks to your sat nav.

So, the conclusion is this- new technology could improve decision making but only with knowledge of current task SA requirements and using it (the technology) to enhance existing, and effective, SA. The best technologies will be the ones which cognitively support the user.

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