Using Benjamin Franklin's behavioral economics maxim in magic


When Benjamin Franklin wanted someone to like him, he'd ask that person to do him a favor, because he noticed that people who'd done him a nice turn would rationalize this by assuming that they'd done so because they liked him, and so they'd continue to do him other favors in the future based on that affection. Read the rest

Dark Patterns: why do companies pursue strategies that make their customers regret doing business?


In this 30 minute video, Harry Brignull rounds up his work on cataloging and unpicking "Dark Patterns," (previously) the super-optimized techniques used by online services to lure their customers into taking actions they would not make otherwise and will later regret. Read the rest

Highest-paid CEOs generate lowest shareholder returns


In Are CEOs paid for performance? Evaluating the Effectiveness of Equity Incentives, a new study from MSCI, researchers compared the salaries of 800 US CEOs of large and medium-sized companies to the returns to their shareholders during their tenure. Read the rest

A catalog of weird-ass corners of game theory research

Game theory is the place where politics, economics, psychology and math meet, and it offers the seductive promise of being able to quantify empirically optimal outcomes from thorny problems ranging from whether to go to war to how to split the tab at a restaurant. Read the rest

Bernie Sanders on Brexit: urgent lessons for the Democrats


In a powerful op-ed in the NYT, Bernie Sanders warns the Democratic Party that Brexit shows that many of the left's traditional supporters justifiably feel abandoned by the neoliberal establishments of the "progressive" parties, and will use any opportunity to show their displeasure. Read the rest

Healthcare workers prioritize helping people over information security (disaster ensues)


In Workarounds to Computer Access in Healthcare Organizations: You Want My Password or a Dead Patient?, security researchers from Penn, Dartmouth and USC conducted an excellent piece of ethnographic research on health workers, shadowing them as they moved through their work environments, blithely ignoring, circumventing and sabotaging the information security measures imposed by their IT departments, because in so doing, they were saving lives. Read the rest

How to protect the future web from its founders' own frailty

Earlier this month, I gave the afternoon keynote at the Internet Archive's Decentralized Web Summit, and my talk was about how the people who founded the web with the idea of having an open, decentralized system ended up building a system that is increasingly monopolized by a few companies -- and how we can prevent the same things from happening next time.

1 in 5 snoop on a phone belonging to a friend or loved one


In Snooping on Mobile Phones: Prevalence and Trends, a paper presented at SOUPS 16, computer scientists from UBC and the University of Lisbon show that a rigorous survey reveals that up to one in five people have snooped on a loved one or friend by accessing their phone. Read the rest

Video: Guarding the Decentralized Web from its founders' human frailty

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Earlier this month, I gave the afternoon keynote at the Internet Archive's Decentralized Web Summit, speaking about how the people who are building a new kind of decentralized web can guard against their own future moments of weakness and prevent themselves from rationalizing away the kinds of compromises that led to the centralization of today's web. Read the rest

Algorithms to Live By: what computer science teaches us about everyday decisions

Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths' Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions is pitched as a combination of personal advice and business book grounded in the lessons of computer science, but it's better than that: while much of the computer science they explain is useful in personal and management contexts, the book is also a beautifully accessible primer on algorithms and computer science themselves, and a kind of philosophical treatise on what the authors call "computational kindness" and "computational stoicism."

A taxonomy of unethical technology design patterns


Tristan Harris, formerly Google's Design Ethicist and Product Philosopher, delves into the way that technology design can "hijack your attention," by introducing casino-like intermittent reward; by framing a subset of possible actions as a comprehensive-seeming menu; by deliberately introducing a sense that you might miss out; by forcing you to move though a clickbaity newsfeed to access your friends' updates; by paraphrasing one request ("where can we go for a quiet chat") as another ("which nearby bars make good cocktails?"). Read the rest

Behavioral economist on why Americans freak out when you attribute their success to luck

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Cornell economist Robert Frank drew the ire of the nation's business press when he published an article that said something most economists would agree with: hard work and skill aren't enough (or even necessary) to succeed; but luck is. Rather than back down from the angry reception, he's expanded the article into a book, Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, which came out last month. Read the rest

Clicking "Buy now" doesn't "buy" anything, but people think it does


In What We Buy When We "Buy Now", a paper forthcoming in The University of Pennsylvania Law Review, respected copyright scholars Aaron Perzanowski and Chris Jay Hoofnagle report on an experiment they set up to test what people clicking the "buy now" button on stores selling digital things (ebooks, games, music, videos, etc) think they get for their money -- it's not what they think. Read the rest

Harvard Business Review: Stop paying executives for performance


Two business-school researchers have published a literature survey in the Harvard Business Review that makes the case against using performance-pay to motivate senior managers. Read the rest

Normalizing deviance: why tech companies repeatedly do stupid, destructive things


"The normalization of deviance" is a sociological term describing how groups of people become accustomed to ignoring safety rules and best practices, becoming plagued with (sometimes fatal) problems that no one can seem to fix. Read the rest

EAT BUGS: Monetary incentives distort our perceptions of what's good for us


There are lots of transactions that we're either prohibited from making (selling kidneys), or that are strictly regulated by statute (parental surrogacy). Naturally, these rules are hotly debated, especially among economists, who generally assume that markets of informed buyers and sellers produce outcomes that make everyone better off. Read the rest

Bankers' "Vulnerability Index": scoring employees' desperation


Back in 2009, SF author Peter Watts had dinner with a retired investment banker from TD who described the bank's "vulnerability index" -- a numeric score that expresses how desperate you are for your paycheck and thus the extent to which you can be reliably expected to forego your dignity and principles to keep your check intact. Read the rest

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