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Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Implications of Diversity?

In my other life, I blog on professional matters. As I rode the subway, I began to think on how I could model the value of diverse teams.

Team 1
For a given problem with the solution of x

  • Indivdual_1 has the set of knowledge {A, B, c}
  • Individual_2 has the set of knowledge {a, B, C}
  • Individual_3 has the set of knowledge {A,b, C}

The capitalizations represent strength of particular knowledge. Team 1 has some strong members, but they all only know the set of knowledge.

Team 2
For a given problem with the solution of x

  • Individual_1 has the set of knowledge {a,b,c}
  • Individual_2 has the set of knowledge {a,b,d}
  • Individudal_3 has the set of knoweldge {a,d,f}

As you can see team 2 has greater cognitive diversity, and could solve complex problems utilizing a wider range of knowledge. Team 1 could only use {a,b,c} to solve problems. Thus, diversity is a much desired attribute in a team.

It was a long subway ride, so I then turned my attention to how modeling the knowledge of individuals could help my understanding of moral philosophy.

Lets revisit my model of Team 1.

For a given question on the best way of living
  • Indivdual_1 has the set of contributions {a, b, c}
  • Individual_2 has the set of contributions {a, b, c}
  • Individual_3 has the set of contributions {a,b, c}

  • This is really messy attempt at modeling, and shows how quantitative attempts on moral philosophy can break down. Notice that I did not frame the problem as having a solution x and the individuals have set of contributions as opposed to a set of knowledge. Each of the agents have pieces of contributions to as each team tries to arrive at a conclusion. I changed the wording as I don't want to get distracted with the question of what is "moral knowledge." For what qualifies as contributions, I was thinking of traditions, intuition, etc.

    What's interesting is that every solution for the best way of living in Team 1 would involve {a,b,c}. The diverse Team 2 could draw from a wider set of contributions but how would they resolve which were the strongest claims? That would take an agreement on what is the end solution for the given moral question. How else could they weigh the claims of each contribution?

    While we can see the power of diversity in complex decision-making, we were modeling it for a problem with a given solution. A good business has a strategy which moves it towards an agreed upon end, and heterogeneous agents working together can draw from a greater breadth of knowledge to arrive at the agreed upon end.

    But it's not clear to me that the power of diversity would help a society stumble upon an answer to the question of how to best live one's life. While there is no agreed upon answer to the moral question from the outset, the agents in Team 1 understand one another's contribution sets. The heterogeneous agents in Team 2 would offer contributions which would be unintelligble to their teammates and would not be searching for an agreed upon answer. As the agents in Team 1 search for a solution, they would all agree the end solution would result from a varying contribution of {a,b,c}.

    Homogeneity arises from shared traditions, practices, and beliefs. When a society loses those, the moral language becomes meaningless as seen in the diverse Team 2, where the actors could never arrive at an agreement on how to live the best life.

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