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Thought Thursdays
What will the humans do? Decisions for the future, as if made by people

As if decision making is not per se sufficiently complex, it is, in addition, often done by humans. This may have seemed self-evident in a previous epoch, but in the current era, characterised by a dramatic increase in artificial intelligence, robotics and the internet of things, the way humans make decisions deserves renewed attention, from both machines and humans. We may have imagined that, given the expanse of literature in the fields of psychology, sociology and anthropology, and business libraries filled with volumes on managing people, our species would have decoded its most likely decisions by now. But we continue to surprise ourselves with strange tales of our own choices, such as with Brexit, the rise of Trump, migration fatigue and funny cat videos.

The field of behavioural economics, most notably through Kahneman and Tversky, has developed a sophisticated way of re-examining the assumptions of rationality of neoclassical economics. A number of observable paradoxes and inconsistencies in decision making have led to a new appreciation of the human as influenced by many contextual factors in the process of making a decision. 

Emotional intelligence (made prominent largely by Goleman) and its pseudo-metric cousin, EQ, have had much attention as an important qualifier of decisions. But EQ alone is not sufficient for quality cognition. Equanimity can only contribute to a favourable mental state in which decisions may be processed; it does not process the decision – much as a favourable terroir creates the opportunity for fine wine, but does not make the wine, or as windows allow light into a building, but do not constitute that building in and of themselves.

In previous articles, this author explored cognitive competence through leadership and the role of the intellectual, where the value of the intellect was expounded through eleven lenses on leadership. High quality cognition was further described in strategic terms with the InCOME Prescripts 5i Framework , which laid out an extensive ecology of concepts for strategic decision making. Some examination of a systemic approach to thinking was discussed for its cognitively liberating qualities , as was an innovative methodology for learning in the era of complexity . In a recent article, an index of bias was established as a preventative mechanism for future blindness. 

This article continues the pursuit of high-quality decision making for the future by investigating the somewhat mysterious nature of human decisions. In a style similar to the creation of previous frameworks and indices, it posits a bounded realm of indicators that aim to move the anticipation of human decisions from the expanse of the possible into the large-holed net of the probable, driven predominantly by what humans may regard as plausible and preferable. Naturally, all models and frameworks on the nature of the creature known as ‘human’ are, by definition, incomplete and ever-evolving, but it is suggested that the process by which humans choose is, by contrast to the largely deterministic processes of machines and most current-state artificial intelligence, typically probabilistic, and that such probability may be derived from those properties that make us truly human.

This is not a search for the essence of humanity, as systemic wisdom argues against the possible grasp of any fundamental essence or true nature of elements. It is, instead, a humble attempt at anticipating what others might decide based on a selection of indicators. Examining the presence of these indicators in the containing social system in which a sample of humans reside may suggest some of the most likely tendencies for decisions. In a self-deprecating manner that ridicules the very attempt at decoding the human, this author proposes the indicators, all starting with the letter ‘P’ for probable. The 10P indicators, then, may include:
1. Pleasure and pleasantness, including the exhibition of laziness, and the aversion to pain

2. Profit, whether in the forms of 
a. money
b. time
c. angst, or
d. effort

3. Play, including gamification (homo ludens)

4. Protection and predictability, including habit and the need for certainty, balanced by probabalism

5. Poiesis, i.e. making, creating, organising and creative productivity. This includes autopoiesis, i.e. the potential of the system for self-organisation and self-regeneration, as well as allopoiesis, i.e. organising and generating new elements outside its original dimensions.

6. Prominence and status

7. Power/autonomy and influence, including power over the self and others

8. Pairing and apetitus societatis (the need for the company of other humans)

9. Parity and equality

10. Philosophy and purposefulness, including the search for meaning, pre-occupation, choice and the need for belief

Such a range of major indicators of probability by no means renders the human demystified, as the dominant species on the planet simply grows more mysterious with every unfolding insight. It is indeed true that some of the indicators mentioned above are, in certain contexts, even contradictory. Consider, for example, how the Brexit vote may be driven simultaneously by the needs for Protection, Power and Parity, as perceived by the voter.

To decode human decision making into but ten dimensions is patently over-simplistic. Simultaneously, to imagine that there is no distinction between AI (artificial intelligence) and HI (human intelligence) is also to generalise humans beyond the point of recognition. As an active decision-making agent, the reader of this article may have a personal sense of which indicators named above feature prominently in the assessment of the validity of this article. But with the rise of robotics, artificial intelligence and the internet of things, in the view of at least one author, the human would be well advised to behave and make decisions in a way that only humans can. This may sustain the role of the human as a creative agent in a complex and dynamic evolution to alternative futures.

Dr Morne Mostert is the director of the Institute for Futures Research at Stellenbosch University. He advised globally on Futures and Strategic Thinking.

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