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Turning uncertainty into a determinism in the age of COVID-19

In the past article, I explored the meaning of uncertainty and how the Covid-19 is a typical black swan event. However, it’s still not a deep uncertain event. In this article, I will explore more types of uncertainty, how it affects our decision-making, and what nations should make to fight the pandemic uncertainty.

Photo by Korhan Erdol on

Our daily life decisions mostly fluctuate between deterministic and risky situations and sometimes complete uncertainty. However, with today’s aggressive political shifts and climate change, and recently the Covid-19 Pandemic, we are facing increasingly uncertain situations where we must make decisions. Such uncertainties carry the risk of mass killing, disrupting economies, nations, and relationships.

If we knew the outcomes of our decisions exactly, then there wouldn’t be problems. Still, uncertainty is part of our daily lives, at home and in business. As such, there are entire bookshelves dedicated to the analytical treatment of uncertainty. Decision-makers use probabilistic models to assess the risk associated with decision outcomes. Probability is used for the quantification of uncertainty, allowing people to communicate such uncertainties and manage them.

Uncertainty is either epistemic uncertainty, that result from a lack of knowledge, or linguistic uncertainty that result from communication failures.60

If we’re planning an outdoor barbeque party next Friday, we look up the weather forecast many days ahead with precise accuracy and risk assessment. We have climate information for past years and can predict the weather to a degree, though this is a risk.

Uncertainty, on the other hand, results from a lack of knowledge, such as natural causes. Say we want to plan a vacation for next winter in Bali, but an earthquake or tsunami is uncertainty.

Knowledge uncertainty is the things that we can’t measure or that are subject to experience and observations. While you can increase your knowledge about many epistemic uncertainties, they will always come as a surprise. The Covid-19 Pandemic is a knowledge uncertainty, we have a similar experience with other viruses, but this time its rapid spread and high mortality rate came as a surprise.

The Arab Spring revolution came as a surprise to all political think tanks and governing regimes. However, you should always expect uncertainty while making big decisions.

There are also linguistic uncertainties, and these can arise from vagueness, such as someone saying, “there’s a long way to go,” where you need to ask, “how long?” Or when you say something is “suitable,” it is very subjective and cannot be measured so that you might ask “how suitable?”. This uncertainty can also occur because some words have a double meaning, or the meaning is subject to understanding the context or is nonspecific.

Say a man had a car accident, and the doctor is communicating with his wife that he is in a coma, its an uncertain situation resulting from the nonspecific language. The wife may ask, “Where is on the degree of the coma scale?” or ask for the results of the serial imaging studies to gain more information on her husband’s condition. This knowledge, which is already known to the doctors, helps them to make better decisions for patient’s management and to avoid using vague language such as the mere word “coma.”

Linguistic uncertainties often result from poor communication, while epistemic uncertainties result from ignorance. Both can be improved if you use science, technology, and better communication. If you gather more information, you will be in a better situation to move from an uncertain situation to a risky situation, or even better, to be deterministic.

To turn the Covid-19 Pandemic from an uncertain situation to a more controllable deterministic position, we need better knowledge and better communications.

Nations need to make use of all the current technologies, such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, 5G, mobile devices, and micro-location.

In the next article, we go into how to deal with uncertainty.

Parts of this article are in my book, In or Out: A Practical Guide to decision making.

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