Learning Without Theory

How can we make countries more competitive, growth more sustainable and inclusive, and genders more equal? In most of the situations we face, we lack a theory of the relationship between actions and outcomes, or if we have one, we are not sure that it is correct.

CAMBRIDGE – How can we improve the state of the world? How can we make countries more competitive, growth more sustainable and inclusive, and genders more equal?

One way is to have a correct theory of the relationship between actions and outcomes and then to implement actions that achieve our goals. But, in most of the situations we face, we lack such a theory, or if we have one, we are not sure that it is correct. So what can we do? Should we postpone action until we learn about what works? But how will we learn if we do not act? And if we act, how can we learn whether we did the right thing?

New advances in machine learning and biological anthropology are shedding light on how learning happens and what makes a learning process successful. But, while theories are important, most of what we learn does not depend on them.

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