Daily Archives: March 7, 2011

Newsweek on the science of decision making

Writing in Newsweek, Sharon Begley reports on a number of new studies that are informing our understanding of decision making. One particularly salient example gives us a new perspective on the notion of a ‘well-informed decision:’

[Angelika Dimoka, director of the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University] recruited volunteers to try their hand at combinatorial auctions, and as they did she measured their brain activity with fMRI.

As the information load increased, she found, so did activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region behind the forehead that is responsible for decision making and control of emotions. But as the researchers gave the bidders more and more information, activity in the dorsolateral PFC suddenly fell off, as if a circuit breaker had popped.

“The bidders reach cognitive and information overload,” says Dimoka. They start making stupid mistakes and bad choices because the brain region responsible for smart decision making has essentially left the premises. For the same reason, their frustration and anxiety soar: the brain’s emotion regions—previously held in check by the dorsolateral PFC—run as wild as toddlers on a sugar high. The two effects build on one another. “With too much information, ” says Dimoka, “people’s decisions make less and less sense.”

Read the whole article on Newsweek’s website.

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Machine analysis of textual materials leading to a decreased need for some professionals

The New York Times reports:

Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, “e-discovery” software can analyze documents in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost [relative to human analysis]…

Some programs go beyond just finding documents with relevant terms at computer speeds. They can extract relevant concepts — like documents relevant to social protest in the Middle East — even in the absence of specific terms, and deduce patterns of behavior that would have eluded lawyers examining millions of documents…

Computers are getting better at mimicking human reasoning — as viewers of “Jeopardy!” found out when they saw Watson beat its human opponents — and they are claiming work once done by people in high-paying professions.

A (geeky) tour of SRI International

SRI International, based in Menlo Park, Califorinia, is a non-profit contract research institute founded in 1946 by Stanford University and spun off to become an independent entity in 1970. SRI has done pioneering work in various fields, including artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction.

In this article for TechCrunch.com, Robert Scoble shares video footage of a recent visit he made to SRI, where he had an opportunity to see SRI researchers’ work on ‘augmented reality,’ including new haptic feedback interfaces and speech translation systems. It’s a fascinating look at some cutting-edge research of interest to cognitive scientists.