Remember that water-filled Magic 8 ball you used to consult? That decision-making toy has gone high-tech, thanks to a new service called Hunch, created by one of Flickr’s co-founders. The site enters information about you into an algorithm developed by MIT computer scientists. It then formulates answers to personal questions, from what you should make for dinner to where you should take a vacation.
Here’s how it works: Just like on matchmaking sites like eHarmony.com, users create a profile by answering questions about themselves—up to 1,500 questions, in this case.
After your profile has been created, you can ask the site a specific question. Hunch’s algorithm will lead you through another series of inquiries to filter out undesirable choices and rank those that remain. Finally, the site presents you with what is supposedly your best option.
Once the site suggests a decision, you can enter feedback about whether you think the “choice” made for you was a good one. Developers hope that input from users will shape Hunch’s algorithm, helping the site yield decisions that users increasingly find desirable.
But while the service is clever, it raises a bigger question: Can a computerized system really make decisions as well as a human can? After all, research has shown that humans’ decision-making efforts can be irrational, so capturing human nature in an algorithm could be pretty tricky. And, of course, there’s always the possibility that the algorithm could make more rational choices than we’d like.
Ultimately, we think it depends on the question: For example, Hunch would probably be a better tool for helping you decide which camera to buy than it would advising you whether to dump your boyfriend.
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Image: flickr / kjunstorm