The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki © 2004
Host: Steve M.
Date: November 1, 2007
Judges’ Score: TBA
Food & Drink: Ethiopian Food + Home-made Anna cake
Overall, some tough punches thrown — was the book’s theory arbitrary? Did Surowiecki take a theory he noticed in anecdotes and force his data to conform? Sure crowds are wise if you apply such stringent rules: a crowd will ONLY be smart if this AND this AND this AND this. That is, a smart crowd must have diversity of opinion, independence of individuals, decentralization (not controlled by one person or group), and aggregation of opinions. Who fits the bill?
However, there seemed to be a general consensus that crowds could provide useful information…sometimes. Corporations are now polling employees to predict future performance, and even the belligerent Broken Spines group cobbled their collective wisdom to successfully answer impromptu history questions and guesstimations (on average).
Maybe the true value of a crowd lies in creating the right question. You might not ask a random sample to build a bridge, but they might be equipped to define the sturdiest overall design. And though innovation may still originate with the individual, tools become truly useful once put to the crowd for aggregation: even if Google’s algorithm was created by one person, its worth comes from the crowd’s aggregated opinion. Similarly, the Iowa Electronic Markets.
The communal Ethiopian food was amicably received, Anna’s cake creation arrived amidst whoops and hollers, and the BS crowd tossed back another book in the hope that a rising class of informed citizenry lifts all boats.
Let them eat cake!