Elephants and Algorithms: How to avoid the confirmation bubble

There’s a famous parable about six blind men and an elephant. Each of the men approach the elephant from a different angle, and, using only their sense of touch, discuss what they find. ‘It’s a rope’, says the man holding the tail. ‘No, it’s a tree branch’, says the one holding the trunk. The man holding the tusk thinks it’s a pipe, and on they go, disagreeing, until a king approaches and explains the elephant as a whole animal.┬áThe lesson, of course, is that they were all partially right – it’s just that each of them had access to a different part of the truth, and none of them, with only his own perspective, had the whole picture.

The reason this parable has been around for hundreds of years and been retold throughout numerous cultures, is that it contains a simple, powerful truth about human nature – we have a tendency to blindspots. We find ourselves viewing the world from a particular perspective, and tuning out voices that might conflict with that understanding. Yet there are a few simple things we can do to help correct for this tendency, and so be in the best position to see the true big picture and make the best decision in light of that.