Regrets? I’ve Had a Few (Earth Current)

Microchip on a postage stamp; photo by Bruce Dale

People say it all the time. “If only.” “If only I’d remembered our wedding anniversary.” “If only I’d taken that other job.” “If only I’d brought my umbrella to work today.” Regret is a distinctly human trait, but computer researchers at Tel Aviv University and the folks at Google are out to change all that. Professor Yishay Mansour and his team have developed an algorithm so that computers programs can minimize “virtual regret”–that is, to cut down on the difference between a desired outcome and an actual outcome. This can result in better decisions. Prof. Mansour notes that computers can take advantage of “regret” more quickly than people can: “We are able to change and influence the decision-making of computers in real-time. Compared to human beings, help systems can much more quickly process all the available information to estimate the future as events unfold–whether it’s a bidding war on an online auction site, a sudden spike of traffic to a media website, or demand for an online product.” Google hopes to apply this research to improve its online technologies.

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