Desicion Making and Problem Solving

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The work of managers, of scientists, of engineers, of lawyers--the work that steers the course of society and its economic and governmental organizations--is largely work of making decisions and solving problems. It is work of choosing issues that require attention, setting goals, finding or designing suitable courses of action, and evaluating and choosing among alternative actions. The first three of these activities--fixing agendas, setting goals, and designing actions--are usually called problem solving; the last, evaluating and choosing, is usually called decision making. Nothing is more important for the well-being of society than that this work be performed effectively, that we address successfully the many problems requiring attention at the national level (the budget and trade deficits, AIDS, national security, the mitigation of earthquake damage), at the level of business organizations (product improvement, efficiency of production, choice of investments), and at the level of our individual lives (choosing a career or a school, buying a house).

The abilities and skills that determine the quality of our decisions and problem solutions are stored not only in more than 200 million human heads, but also in tools and machines, and especially today in those machines we call computers. This fund of brains and its attendant machines form the basis of our American ingenuity, an ingenuity that has permitted U.S. society to reach remarkable levels of economic productivity.

There are no more promising or important targets for basic scientific research than understanding how human minds, with and without the help of computers, solve problems and make decisions effectively, and improving our problem-solving and decision-making capabilities. In psychology, economics, mathematical statistics, operations research, political science, artificial intelligence, and cognitive science, major research gains have been made during the past half century in understanding...
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