Turn off the autopilot:
Driverless cars as a metaphor for bias in decision making
By Logan Watts, PhD & Tristan McIntosh, MS
Driverless cars were once nothing more than a dream of science fiction writers. It’s not hard to see the appeal. I’d much rather spend my commute watching Netflix than staring at asphalt. Of course, driverless cars are no longer science fiction, but reality. Tesla, Google, Apple, Uber, and other firms are now racing to market driverless technology.
In this race, safety is a huge concern. Tesla’s “autopilot mode”, for example, has been shown to result in fewer highway accidents. Still, the technology is far from perfect. When autopilot mode is activated, Tesla cars display a warning screen. This warning instructs drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and remain alert. In other words, Tesla is urging people to devote the same attention to driving whether autopilot mode is active or not.
Tesla shows the warning screen to reduce their legal burden if an accident occurs. The firm cannot guarantee safety. Driving is a complex activity with high stakes. That’s why a license is required. Driving is complex because the environment is difficult to predict. When roads are in good shape, traffic is limited, the weather is clear, and all vehicles (and drivers) in the area are fully functional, driving is much more predictable. But these perfect driving conditions are usually a fantasy.
Autopilot mode provides a metaphor for understanding how biases can influence decisions. A bias is any belief that limits one’s ability to objectively observe reality. Biases act as mental shortcuts that make hard decisions easier. Thus, biases are the brain’s version of “autopilot mode.”
There are many types of biases. In fact, our team has identified over 40 biases that have been discussed in the scientific literature. Here’s a list of 10 of the most common biases that can lead to bad behavior in the workplace.
Top 10 Biases
Do any of these biases remind you of you? If so, watch out. Like imperfect driving conditions, ethics problems are bumpy and complex. In these situations, relying on autopilot mode to make decisions for you can be hazardous to you and those around you. The good news is there is a solution, although it isn’t easy and it requires practice and awareness. Turn off the autopilot.
Stay tuned for follow-up posts about other types of biases as well as strategies for managing them.
The Ethics Advantage Team