Can a Computer Run the Economy?

Machine_learning

I am nottalking about socialism or totalitarianism, but about computers and artificial intelligence.

For a long time, we have seen political infighting and finger-pointing stall progress on creating jobs, balancing trade, taming the deficits, and sparking innovation.

But what if we somehow took out the quest for power and influence from navigating our prosperity?

In politics, unfortunately no one seems to want to give the other side the upper hand–a political win with voters or a leg-up on with their platform.

But through the disciplines of economics, finance, organizational behavior, industrial psychology, sociology, geopolitics, and more–can we program a computer to steer the economy using facts rather than fighting and fear?

Every day, we need to make decisions, big and small, on everything from interests rates, tax rates, borrowing, defense spending, entitlements, pricing strategies, regulating critical industries, trade pacts, and more.

Left in the hands of politicians, we inject personal biases and even hatreds, powerplays, band-standing, bickering, and “pork-barrel” decision making, rather than rational acting based on analysis of alternatives, cost-benefits, risk management, and underlying ethics.

We thumb our noises (rightfully) at global actors on the political stages, saying who is rational and who is perhaps just plain crazy enough to hit “the button.”

But back here at home, we can argue about whether or not the button of economic destructionism has already been hit with the clock ticking down as the national deficit spirals upward, education scores plummet, and jobs are lost overseas?

Bloomberg BusinessWeek(30 August 2012) suggests using gaming as a way to get past the political infighting and instead focus on small (diverse) groups to make unambiguous trade-off decisions to guide the economy rather than “get reelected”–the results pleasantly were cooperation and collaboration.

Yes, a game is just a game, but there is lesson that we can learn from this–economic decision-making can be made (more) rationally by rewarding teamwork and compromise, rather than by an all or nothing, fall on your sword, party against party, winner takes no prisoner-politics.

I would suggest that gaming is a good example for how we can improve our economy, but I can see a time coming where “bid data,” analytics, artificial intelligence, modeling and simulation, and high-performance computing, takes this a whole lot further–where computers, guided and inspired by people, help us make rational economic choices,thereby trumping decisions by gut, intuition, politics, and subjective whims .

True, computers are programmed by human beings–so won’t we just introduce our biases and conflict into the systems we develop and deploy?

The idea here is to filter out those biases using diverse teams of rational decision-makers, working together applying subject matter expertise and best practices and then have the computers learn over time in order to improve performance–this, separate from the desire and process to get votes and get elected.

Running the economy should not be about catering to constituencies, getting and keeping power for power sakes, but rather about rational decision-making for society–where the greatest good is provided to the greatest numbers, where the future takes center stage, where individuals preferences and rights are respected and upheld, and where ethics and morality underpin every decision we make.

The final question is whether we will be ready to course-correct with collaboration and advances in technology to get out of this economic mess before this economic mess gets even more seriously at us?

(Source Photo: herewith attribution to Erik Charlton)

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