Evaluating New Technology? You’re More Biased Than You May Realize

Unconscious ideas about new technology can lead to poor investment decisions.

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In the same way that leaders may harbor an implicit bias about characteristics of groups of people, they may also harbor implicit biases about new technology — including new technology they might be considering investing in to improve productivity or competitiveness.

You may think that you make decisions about technology tools with an open mind and a clear process for evaluating options. But our review of hundreds of published studies on new technology adoption reveals that personal beliefs about new technology — that it’s wondrous, complex, and alien — prompt specific, unconscious biases about how and why it’s better than older options.

Implicit bias toward the dazzle of new tools can cause leaders to take unnecessary risks and ignore the advice of human experts in decision-making. Further, implicit bias toward new technology may lead to sizable investments in products and services that are unproven or even unsafe.

Beliefs and Biases About New Technology (and the Risks They Present)

We define new technology bias as automatically activated (that is, unconscious) perceptions of emerging technology. These implicit biases draw from general beliefs about technology, and they go on to influence our perceptions of everything from smartphone apps to flight instruments used to pilot an aircraft. Considering the high technological ferment companies are experiencing today, it is crucial for leaders to be aware not only of the existence of new technology bias but also of its consequences when it comes to adopting or discarding new tools. Here, we detail three general beliefs that people have about new technology, the bias that each leads to, and the risks that each bias presents.

Belief: New technology is mysterious and a “wonder.”

Bias it leads to: New technology is better than current options.

Risk: Leaders may favor a new technology even if it is unproven.

Any of us can easily conjure up thoughts of technological advances that seem miraculous — such as using nanotechnology to cure cancer — and advances that have changed our everyday lives, such as microwaves that make cooking faster, map apps on our phones that are updated by satellites in real time, and laser technology used to correct sight defects. Moreover, we tend to remember successful technological innovations and forget unsuccessful ones (can you name the earliest voice-recognition software?).

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