Discussion on intuition. Daniel Kahneman's lecture.

Google talks
This post is a recommendation to watch the lecture that Daniel Kahneman gave in the @Google Presents talks. It was a discussion on human intuition, somehow explaining why we magically know things without knowing we know them. We information security practitioners will find many points to link to.

Modest disclaimer: This post by no means tries to replace the video of the talk. It just provides a very subjective (and telegraphic) summary of some of the points touched upon.

Some references such as "Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions" by Gary Klein or "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell propose that judgement biases are not so negative and actually a source of power. Daniel Kahneman is certainly very sceptical on the power of expert. For example, how would intuition play in Medicine? When you can trust intuition?

Intuition and judgement

Kahneman distinguishes between two modes of thinking i.e. thoughts that come to mind (system 1) and judgements (system 2). Examples of the first ones are something that happens to us, something truly perceived, impressions and also intuitive thinking. This type of thoughts are intuitive, automatic. The second type requires effort. They are deliberate and effortful.

A empirical exercise would be the following one: we would fall into the temptation of eating chocolate more easily if we have to keep a 7 digit number in our head. Our self control is impaired if we are doing another activity. This clearly means that it takes some effort to control our impulses.

Then in minute 12 he starts to talk about skills. For example, driving is a skill. In a skill things begin to happen automatically. That is the reason why we can drive and talk or why braking is completely automatic. However, some skills are completely non-intuitive e.g. driving on skids requires different and non-intuitive skills.

An interesting point is that having emotional reactions to a certain perception is automatic in system 1 but also system 1 is where skills are located. Then he mentions that Herbert Simon (Nobel laureate) defined intuition as simply recognition.

When can you trust intuition?
If there are clear rules in the environment, especially if they can give you immediate feedback, we will acquire those rules e.g. we all identify erratic behaviour when driving.

Human beings are also very good at reinforced practice e.g. anesthesiologists get very good feedback and very quickly, radiologists get the opposite case, slow and not so good feedback i.e. it is more difficult for them to develop intuitive expertise.

In a sentence, intuitive expertise is not possible in chaotic scenarios, that is the reason why the world is not predictable. Formulas beat human when there is some predictability but the perform poorly in low predictability environments.

We frequently have intuitions that are false and are not distinguishable from expert intuitions - how can we distinguish from expert intuition?.

A book by Joshua Foer titled "Moonwalking with Einstein" states that memory is superb at remembering routes through space but memory is poor at remembering a list Our mind is set to think about agents (and they have traits, behaviours) however we are not good at remembering sentences with abstract subjects.

Getting influenced by the environment
Posters we can see and read close to us influence our behaviour. When people are exposed to a threatening word, they move back - the symbolic threat has somehow a real effect.

If we see two unrelated words together, like "banana" and "vomit", we will think about vomit when we see a banana. In effect, we saw two words and we made a story e.g. the banana made us vomit, our associative machinery tries to find a cause.

You make a disgust face, you experience disgust. You make a smiling face, you are more likely to think that things are funny. Place a pencil in your mouth and you will think cartoons are funnier.

By partially activating ideas e.g. by whispering words, then the threshold to feel emotions related to those ideas is lower and all this happen without you knowing it consciously. It is a way to prepare ourselves.

Associative memory is a repository of knowledge. We try to suppress ambiguity, making ambiguous stimuli coherent.

It takes us very little time to create a norm. Our reasoning flows along causal lines, this happens intuitively. The coherence that we experience can be turned into a judgement of probability. However, people have confidence in intuitions that are not essentially true. We use a system that classifies things,  whether they are normal or abnormal, and very quickly. Speed is key for our brain.

Substitution: The dates experiment
Two questions: How happy are you? and How many dates did you had last month?
In that order, correlation is zero. In the reverse order, correlation is 0.66. This is an example of substitution, the emotion that reigns when answering the second one.

Subjective confidence
There is a real demand for over confidence, but this is not the secret to get real and valuable information. Confidence is not a good diagnostic to trust somebody.
The wise way to do it would be to ask what the environment is like and whether they had the opportunity to learn its regularities.

Daniel Kahneman is not really optimistic on us being able to train system 1. This is why e.g. the advertising industry addresses system 1 (emotions and not judgements) e.g. facial characteristics on political leaders (which one looks more confident?) predict 70% of elections. See reference

(minute 56) What happens to people when they are exposed to the idea of money (e.g. the symbol of a dollar), they show selfishness and lack of solidarity.

Nice things
We need to create an environment that will remind people of nice things (and not money e.g.).

Connection between selfcontrol and the general activation of system 2 is an important personality characteristic (e.g. the marshmallow test in children predicts whether they would do better when they are 20)

However, most intelligence tests we have are only for system 2.

It's hard work for system 2 to overturn what system 1 tells. Have that in mind when preparing security awareness sessions or when having a lessons learned exercise on why some security awareness sessions were not effective!

Happy system 1 and system 2 security!

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