Pattern recognition isn’t a new concept. From traders using pattern signals to uncover profitable trade opportunities, to retailers leveraging big data on consumer behavior to adjust their pricing and marketing strategies, pattern recognition helps inform sound decision-making. Or does it?
Technology’s ability to rapidly advance the quantity of the patterns we identify may hinder the quality of the judgments we make. For individuals, wearables such as smart glasses and fitness trackers function as information collection devices, obtaining and disseminating a wealth of data, information and often "analysis" reports – ultimately, large amounts of messaging. From there, each individual often has to act as his or her own filter, making decisions based on what has been collected. In this way, wearable technology provides increased opportunities for self-optimization using the newly available information to improve decision-making through pattern recognition/analysis.
For example, Google Glass and fitness tracking devices provide a new opportunity to see daily decision-making on an individual level through "the eyes" of each individual. This advancement creates an increased level of insight that supersedes their natural human ability to remember what they do or the order they do it in. The decisions made based on this heightened perception can be analyzed for patterns related to sleep, health, education or consumption. Those patterns then create ways to improve the self. Of course, they also provide rich insight for companies that wish to target consumers with messaging and products. (Read more Google Glass in Is Google Glass Groundbreaking – Or Just Goofy?)
So, is there a danger in knowing too much about ourselves in the "information age"? Yes, confirmation bias for one. Now that unlimited amounts of information are suddenly at our fingertips, it can be a challenge for our brains to draw the correct conclusions. Our brains are predictive engines, looking at the world for confirmation for what is already known in order to optimize what to do next. What we see and how we understand are influenced by hardened patterns that our brains have developed over time. This means we tend to be drawn to patterns that mimic things that we already know or think we know, rather than create new relationships or networks in order to understand something differently.
So what can we do to offset this?
We can start by reminding ourselves of what we learned in 8th grade science: That there are methods and frameworks for more objectively trying to understand the world around us. For example, controlled experiments. Instead of searching for information, articles and data to back up pre-drawn conclusions, we should create frameworks to control variables and test decisions/behavior. Essentially, we should become scientists of ourselves: observe what we do and then use those findings as a way to live better, happier and more efficiently. From there, we need to increase the range and depth of our exposure to new ideas, methods and modes.
Reading an article in Flipbook can’t make you an expert and scanning the news posts on Twitter doesn’t mean you are engaged with current affairs. But they are a first step to allow you to openly immerse yourself in new ideas, learn new skills and, in turn, leverage your knowledge to teach others. This is the equivalent of Equinox for your brain, and a much cheaper one at that. The more complex and flexible your brain, the more interesting and advanced patterns you can detect.
What else can be done to prevent confirmation bias? One avenue is to look at our behaviors and decision-making in aggregate. Organizations such as NASA and CrowdAdviser depend on the collective actions of the crowd to draw insights and discover things that were previously "unknowable". For example, NASA will be launching an asteroid-hunting contest that will employ the public to identify asteroids based on images and data from Planetary Resources. Meanwhile, CrowdAdvisor leverages data provided by consumers to provide patterns for small business owners to make decisions so that they can create sustainable companies. Overall, the patterns provided by crowds demonstrate a rich source of information, stripped of the confirmation bias prevalent in the outcomes of patterns determined by individuals independently. Although the confirmation bias experienced by individuals blurs the facts and truth of what’s actually going on, leading to tainted pattern formation, the crowd presents a mode to experience higher quality pattern recognition. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.
Ultimately, there’s no harm or foul in taking in too much information in the Age of Information. But to actually rework what we’re taking in so that it translates into stronger neural patterns and a healthier brain requires a new sort of challenge: becoming a scientist as well as a sponge, and making a change in the mind as well as in the classroom.