Are We in Control of Our Decisions?
During the guest lecture, a topic covered was drone killing innocent people. The situation, the feeling, and the decision making process vary with respect to different people, and thousands of debating topics can be dug out from this. The lady (I forgot her name) started from a victim’s perspective, which makes the story full of sorrow. I have to admit that I feel very sad about those people, but remorse cannot help solving or settling down the problem. I would like to start from the commander’s perspective to ravel out the decision making process.
The biggest question is that “are we in control of our decision?” This is a study proposed by Professor Dan Ariely, and after years of research, he gave a conclusion that under most situation, people are not in control of their decision for unfamiliar issues, regardless of their gender, age, education level, or cultural background. Here is an example provided by Prof. Ariely to support his study (which is the best to demonstrate the commander’s situation), which he refers as cognitive illusion. In figure 1, it shows the percentage people who would donate their organ in different country in Europe. Obviously, the countries on the right side seem to be willing to give a lot, whereas the countries in the left seems giving little or much less. The question is what causes such difference. Taken for granted, some people think this is likely to be caused by culture difference, or possibly, religion based factor. Typically, how much do you care about other people? However, if we dig into the plot, we can see that some countries with very similar cultural background are exhibit strikingly different interest. Austria and Germany, Belgium and Netherland would be examples. Then, what did the countries on the right do? The trick is on the DMV form that needs to be filled upon renewing driver’s license.
For the country on the left, the form has a question as “check the box if you want to participate in organ donor program,” for the country on the right, the question is “check the box if you don’t want to participate.” The interesting part is that when left countries’ people receive the form, they do not check the box, so they do not donate; when right countries’ people get the form, they do not check as well, and they join the donor program.
Figure 1: Percentage people who would give donate their organ
Now let’s think about this interesting phenomenon. Most people agrees that they have full control of their decisions, such as deciding what to eat for lunch. This is not true. Decisions are easily manipulated, even though, intuitively, it is hard to accept that an illusion decision has been made while facing designed form like above. The fact is that when a question is so complex that people do not know what to do, people tend to pick whatever is given ( I guess this is probably because humans’ innate laziness).
Return to the scenario where a commander who is controlling a drone, and the drone has detected several suspicious targets. This must be discussed in two different directions:
1. If it is the commander who discovered the suspicious targets through the image/sound or other information provided by the drone, then the drone is not the right one to blame, and neither the commander in my opinion. The commander must make a decision of firing or not because in the next few minutes the targets will be gone. This was a really complex question, and the decision must be made within a short time. From different points of view, the judgments about the commander are different. The decision made by the commander might seems irrational: “He killed innocent people” or “he let criminals go and innocent people were killed by those ‘should-be-dead-criminals.’” It is hard to judge the commander, but one thing is clear that due to the complexity of the situation, it is extremely difficult for the commander to make a perfect decision within limited amount of time.
2. If it is the drone reported suspicious targets due to algorithm by A.I, then the commander probably made an illusion decision by picking whatever is given; that is, killing the suspicious targets. Moreover, if the A.I. is wrong about the targets, the commander is unlikely to find out because the complex situation has deceived the commander (referring to Figure 1, almost 100% people were choosing the given option, some of these people are possibly commanders).