Jacob Ward is technology correspondent for NBC News, and previously worked as a science and technology correspondent for CNN, Al Jazeera, and PBS. The former editor-in-chief of Popular Science magazine, Ward writes for The New Yorker, Wired, and Men’s Health.
Below, Jacob shares 5 key insights from his new book, The Loop: How Technology Is Creating a World Without Choices and How to Fight Back. Listen to the audio version—read by Jacob himself—in the Next Big Idea App.
1. Human behavior is pattern-based.
We make decisions using systems that rest on ancient evolutionary gifts. The last 50 years of behavioral science have established that, in a way, the brain can be thought of as two brains: a fast-thinking brain and a slow-thinking brain. This idea was popularized in Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow.
The fast-thinking brain is the one we’ve had for around 30 million years. We have aspects of it in common with primates and monkeys, and it is the system that allows us to make rapid decisions without having to talk it through or blow any calories. So, imagine you and I are sitting together and suddenly a big snake slithers into the room between us. Now, we wouldn’t sit there and talk it out, right? We wouldn’t sit and ask, “What kind of snake is that?” We would leap to our feet and get out of there. Our instinctive decision-making system gets us away from danger. This system allows us to make all kinds of decisions, like what food we’re going to eat, what people were going to trust, and which dangers might slide into our lives.
The other brain is the slow-thinking brain, which is a much more recent development in evolutionary terms. It’s probably only about 70,000 to 100,000 years old. This is the system that we use to make creative, cautious, rational decisions, and it’s super glitchy, according to the people who study it. It’s the system that we use to invent things like law and art. It’s also central to what we think of as being human. Researchers have discovered that we use our fast-thinking, instinctive brain most of the time, but we think we’re using our creative, cautious, rational mind most of the time. Pattern-based behavior turns out to have everything to do with using our fast-thinking brain. When you put that brain under pressure and starve it of some essential information, it makes all kinds of decisions in ways that we can predict using formulas. Those predictable patterns in human behavior make us ripe for exploitation by pattern-based systems like AI.
“Researchers have discovered that we use our fast-thinking, instinctive brain most of …….