WNSF: Improving Long-term Decision-Making in Tweet Time with Steven Johnson

Humans are bad at long-term decision-making – yet we need it more today than ever before. Dealing with climate change is just one of many examples. Steven Johnson, the bestselling author of ten books on science, tech, and the history of innovation including Ghost Map, Where Good Ideas Come From, and How We Got To Now, is now applying his mind toward helping drive some innovation into long-term decision-making. At What’s Now: San Francisco, Steven—a part-time Bay Area resident—laid out in public for the first time his thinking about his next book on long-term decision-making. Steven talked about the importance of engaging a diversity of stakeholders in collective decision-making, and referenced studies suggesting diversity trumps ability. He talked about his own experience wrestling with the pros and cons of the decision whether or not to move his family from Brooklyn to the Bay Area, and on a larger scale, discussed the extensive decision-making process that culminated in the successful raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in 2011. Steven referenced developments in weather forecasting and randomized controlled trials in medicine, both of which rely on simulations, as examples of progress in deliberative decision-making over the last 40 years in tools and methods that help improve deliberative decision-making.

However, much more needs to be done to modernize decision-making, particularly in areas like the Electoral College, a system devised in the 18th century partly to solve a compromise over slavery. Steven believes that system is an awful way for 300 million people in the 21st century to make collective decisions. Could California do better? According to Steven, Silicon Valley has catalyzed more than one radical reimagining of how we communicate, and decision-making tools like scenario planning have roots in the San Francisco Bay Area. Could the Bay Area now revolutionize how we make decisions? “Every important decision is on some level a type of prediction,” said Steven. Steven talked about the collective wisdom needed to produce the next generation of the Internet, and the potential of AI to revolutionize decision-making in courtrooms. “The future doesn’t vote,” said Steven, and for this reason, it’s our job to take the future into account when we make decisions that will affect our society and climate over the long-term.