Archive for November 2005

Are crowds smart?

Wisdome of CrowdsIn his book The Wisdome of Crowds, New Yorker business columnist Surowiecki argues that “under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.” To support this somewhat counterintuitive proposition, Surowiecki explores problems involving cognition coordination and cooperation. If four basic conditions are met, a crowd’s “collective intelligence” will produce better outcomes than a small group of experts, Surowiecki argues, even if members of the crowd don’t know all the facts or choose, individually, to act irrationally.

“Wise crowds” need¬†
(1) diversity of opinion;
(2) independence of members from one another;
(3) decentralization; and
(4) a good method for aggregating opinions.

The diversity brings in different information; independence keeps people from being swayed by a single opinion leader; people’s errors balance each other out; and including all opinions guarantees that the results are “smarter” than if a single expert had been in charge. Surowiecki’s style is pleasantly informal, a tactical disguise for what might otherwise be rather dense material. He offers a great introduction to applied behavioral economics that could be very useful for modern search engine technology.