Algorithm Avoidance

This story from Harvard Business Review has the odd title of ‘When Your Boss Wears Metal Pants” and talks about the role of algorithms in business. And guess what? We don’t trust algorithms!

This phenomenon is called “algorithm avoidance,” and it has been documented in many other studies. Whether they’re diagnosing patients or forecasting political outcomes, people consistently prefer human judgment—their own or someone else’s—to algorithms, and as a result they often make worse decisions. The message for managers is that helping humans to trust thinking machines will be essential.

This study used Turkers to learn more about algorithm avoidance:

Researchers from Northwestern’s Kellogg School and Harvard Business School asked workers on the crowdsourcing site Mechanical Turk to complete a variety of tasks; some were told that the tasks required “cognition” and “analytical reasoning,” while others were told that they required “feeling” and “emotion processing.” Then the participants were asked whether they would be comfortable if this sort of work was outsourced to machines. Those who had been told that the work was emotional were far more disturbed by the suggestion than those who had been told it was analytical. “Thinking is almost like doing math,” concludes Michael Norton, of HBS, one of the study’s authors. “And it’s OK for robots to do math. But it’s not OK for robots to feel things, because then they’re too close to being human.”

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