Another big day in the splendid French sunshine! With jetlag wearing off and the students beginning to get used to the INSEAD schedule, all piled in for the morning debrief, welcomed warmly by Freddy Mercury’s melancholic anthem Bohemian Rhapsody; an excellent example of our summer playlist in full flow and in need of refinement. Suitably psyched up, the group was well prepared to learn about Decision Making in life and in business, a topic presented by Summer@INSEAD regular Miguel Lobo, the Associate Professor and Chair of the Decision Sciences area at the university.
Miguel’s discussion began with a consideration of how rapidly technology has advanced over the ages, beginning with an analysis of the trajectory taken by modern-day supercomputers. Computers have been advancing in complexity by 4 or 5 orders of magnitude every 12 years, getting faster and more sophisticated (a point made by the fact that Tesla’s new driving assist computer would have been the world’s fastest supercomputer in 2007). The purpose of this exposition lay in a comparison with the human brain, and how this contrast frames the challenge faced by technology in the future; even with the rate of evolution in technology, the synapses in the human grain are still around 5 orders of magnitude more complex than the most sophisticated, modern supercomputers.
The students were then introduced to the two different forms of computing that take place during human decision making: intuition and complex, logical thinking. Whereas computers have become very adept at dealing with the latter task, its main challenge lies in tacking the first form which comes as second nature to the human brain. Students and counsellors alike were taken aback by Miguel’s compelling description of the intrigue behind human intuition and how it has proven so problematic; a consideration elaborated upon with reference to the death of a pedestrian at the hand of an autonomous vehicle, in an incident that cerebral computation would not have committed.
At a point where the audience’s ego had been suitably inflated, Miguel invited the group to come crashing back down to earth in explaining the purpose of the lecture itself; explaining the nature of unconscious biases and the fundamental fallibility of human intuition. Taking advantage of the super-cool INSEAD survey data platform, and making use of the day’s designated number crunchers (a set of extremely flustered camp counsellors), Miguel was able to use survey data from answers the students themselves had given earlier in the day to show how human “knowledge” can be influenced by anchoring, framing, and biases (among many environmental interferences). The entire lecture was extremely informative and compelling, and the students took surprisingly great pleasure in seeing how wrong they could be about so much. Miguel concluded his session providing three final takeaways for all in attendance:
- Don’t ignore intuition, but never disregard your weaknesses; “awareness of weakness allows you to draw value from your actions“.
- Be aware of biases and evade them by asking questions; get the ranges before taking informed action.
- Groups systematically improve decisions; diversity and creativity breed excellence.
For what was admittedly a very theoretical lecture session, there is no doubt that the students thoroughly enjoyed Miguel Lobo’s visit; long may his visits to Fontainebleau continue.
The afternoon’s “entertainment” came from an outdoor fitness session hosted by resident counsellors Augusta (ex-military) and Aindriu (a bit of a physical Adonis himself). The exercise consisted of own-body weight circuit challenges (push ups, leg raises, shadow boxing etc), pushing the physical, mental, and emotional boundaries of all involved. This writer can testify that at one point he was “seeing spots”, and is begrudgingly envious of the campers’ high-spirits, determination, and resilience throughout. In all honesty, complaints about the intensity of the event are unfounded, as it was advertised as an army-style-fitness bootcamp, but I would be wrong to describe the sheer sadism of the tasks set by our counsellor leaders as anything short of alarming and concerning.
Bouncing back from the exhaustion of the afternoon, the group got together once more for the day’s evening lecture. In what proved to be an excellent compliment to the earlier session, we had the pleasure of connecting digitally with Theos Evgeniou, who delivered a lecture introducing how Artificial Intelligence works, and what it means for society. The group did themselves proud by engaging enthusiastically with the topic after what had been a long day. It would be fair to say that most of the room was unnerved by the idea that we are pushing the boundaries of what computers can do better than humans, a feeling that peaked at the mention of computers creating more intelligent and complex computers themselves.
A particularly interesting discussion was prompted by a question from the audience around the implications of the film “The Matrix”, and the possibility that humanity may finally be going a step too far with technology. Humouring the suggestion, Theos quickly mentioned the fact that throughout history most technological advances had been met with similar protestations, and put to the student who had asked the question, in keeping with “The Matrix” theme, that we may not have as much Free Will as we think we do, and that AI may not be as much of an intrusion as many believe it will be. The murmurs in the crowd and the discussions overheard during dinner exemplified the thought provoking nature of the lecture confirming that AI is indeed as hot a topic as ever.
Theos’ lecture ended on a gratifyingly positive note, with our lecturer pointing out the fact that the best chess player in the world at the moment was not a computer (as the vast majority of the students had guessed), but, in fact, a human being using a computer. This seemed to be a pleasing metaphor for the future of technology as a whole, not just for AI; as ever, humans and machines working together provide the best results.
After the lecture, the students had the pleasure of being joined for dinner by Mr Lobos, who was shortly surrounded by inquisitive campers full to the brim with questions. With the planned karaoke postponed for Monday evening, Summer@INSEAD enjoyed a much needed break as the sun fell on another wonderful day, with fair warning not too get too used to it; we’re only just getting started!