The world doesn’t tell us things, it only responds to questions, curiosities.
Sunrise on the Serengeti — The world responds to our lens
“Gorilla’s in our Midst”, by virtue of its name, does not bring humans to mind. It is a famous psychology study conducted by Simon and Chabris in 1999 demonstrating the nuances of human perception. You can try the taking the test here.
This study was mentioned on EconTalk, in a conversation between Russ Roberts who is a fellow at the Hoover Institution, and Teppo Felin who is a Professor of Strategy at University of Oxford. Their discussion offered a refreshing perspective on human abilities — based on Teppo’s article on the ‘Fallacy of Obviousness’
Teppo’s article is brilliant for several reasons:
- He challenges a well-known, widely read author, Daniel Kahneman,( as well as others) in his representation of human abilities as ‘limited’
- It offers an alternative explanation on selective attention, the phenomenon tested and captured in The Gorilla Experiment
- It underlines the dangers of focusing on ‘obviousness’ as a way to guide our thinking
- He suggests that focusing on human limitations, fuels excitement regarding Artificial Intelligence, whilst it diminishes the essential elements of human abilities
The ever-humanist in me, yearns for the writers that don’t level the future playing field to a survivor game of human vs. artificial intelligence/robot. So Felin’s essay and the following quote, was like a breadth of fresh air
“ The human ability to ask new questions, to generate hypotheses, and to identify and find novelty is unique and not programmable. No statistical procedure allows one to somehow see a mundane, taken-for-granted observation in a radically different and new way. That’s where humans come in.”
His essay warns us against the current narrative of how sufficient/big data with applications in advanced statistical learning can become superior and will likely extinguish human abilities & existence. The danger of this narrative is how it subtly informs and shapes our scientific and social theories moving forward. It also inevitably, frames the human as impotent and waiting for the fate of what is to come. With a story line like this, we are dis empowering ourselves, as well as our future.
I am a strong proponent of human abilities — our creativity, curiosity and imagination — elements we should not lose sight of and monitor how narratives relating to technology are shaping them.