Synopses & Reviews
“No one in this world, so far as I know, has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” —H. L. Mencken
H. L. Mencken was wrong.
In this endlessly fascinating book, New Yorker columnist James Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea that has profound implications: large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.
This seemingly counterintuitive notion has endless and major ramifications for how businesses operate, how knowledge is advanced, how economies are (or should be) organized and how we live our daily lives. With seemingly boundless erudition and in delightfully clear prose, Surowiecki ranges across fields as diverse as popular culture, psychology, ant biology, economic behaviorism, artificial intelligence, military history and political theory to show just how this principle operates in the real world.
Despite the sophistication of his arguments, Surowiecki presents them in a wonderfully entertaining manner. The examples he uses are all down-to-earth, surprising, and fun to ponder. Why is the line in which you’re standing always the longest? Why is it that you can buy a screw anywhere in the world and it will fit a bolt bought ten-thousand miles away? Why is network television so awful? If you had to meet someone in Paris on a specific day but had no way of contacting them, when and where would you meet? Why are there traffic jams? What’s the best way to win money on a game show? Why, when you walk into a convenience store at 2:00 A.M. to buy a quart of orange juice, is it there waiting for you? What do Hollywood mafia movies have to teach us about why corporations exist?
The Wisdom of Crowds is a brilliant but accessible biography of an idea, one with important lessons for how we live our lives, select our leaders, conduct our business, and think about our world.
"While our culture generally trusts experts and distrusts the wisdom of the masses, 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 almost counterintuitive proposition, Surowiecki explores problems involving cognition (we're all trying to identify a correct answer), coordination (we need to synchronize our individual activities with others) and cooperation (we have to act together despite our self-interest). His rubric, then, covers a range of problems, including driving in traffic, competing on TV game shows, maximizing stock market performance, voting for political candidates, navigating busy sidewalks, tracking SARS and designing Internet search engines like Google. If four basic conditions are met, a crowd's 'collective intelligence' will produce better outcomes than a small group of experts, Surowiecki says, 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 and game theory. Agent, Chris Calhoun. (On sale May 18) Forecast: While armchair social scientists (e.g., readers of The Tipping Point) will find this book interesting, college economics, math, statistics and finance students could really profit from spending time with Surowiecki. National author promos and print ads will attract buyers." Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[T]he author argues persuasively that collective wisdom works better than the intelligent fiat of any individual....There is some individual, independent wisdom to be found here." Kirkus Reviews
"This work is an intriguing study of collective intelligence and how it works in contemporary society. Recommended." Library Journal
"The Wisdom of Crowds is dazzling. It is one of those books that will turn your world upside down. It's an adventure story, a manifesto, and the most brilliant book on business, society, and everyday life that I've read in years."
Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point
"This book should be in every thinking businessperson's library. Without exception. At a time when corporate leaders have shown they're not always deserving of our trust, James Surowiecki has brilliantly revealed that we can trust each other. That we count. That our collective effort is far more important than the lofty predictions of those CEO-kings we have worshipped for too long." Po Bronson, author of What Should I Do With My Life?
"Jim Surowiecki has done the near impossible. He's taken what in other hands would be a dense and difficult subject and given us a book that is engaging, surprising, and utterly persuasive. The Wisdom of Crowds will change the way you think about markets, economics, and a large swatch of everyday life." Joe Nocera, editorial director of Fortune magazine and author of A Piece of the Action
"It has become increasingly recognized that the average opinions of groups is frequently more accurate than most individuals in the group. As a special case, economists have spoken of the role of markets in assembling dispersed information. The author has written a most interesting survey of the many studies in this area and discussed the limits as well as the achievements of self-organization." Kenneth Arrow, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and Professor of Economics (Emeritus), Stanford University
"The author has a knack for translating the most algebraic of research papers into bright expository prose." Scott McLemee, The New York Times Book Review
"James Surowiecki, financial columnist for the New Yorker, builds a fascinating case....The Wisdom of Crowds is a subtly intelligent book that's fun to argue with: if it becomes a best seller, that will of course confirm the author's thesis." Time
"Every decade, there are a handful of books that change the way you look at everything. This is one of those books. Society has begun to reckon the change that big data will bring. This book is an incredibly important start."
—Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, and author of Remix and Free Culture
"This brilliant book cuts through the mystery and the hype surrounding big data.
A must-read for anyone in business, information technology, public policy, intelligence, and medicine. And anyone else who is just plain curious about the future."
—John Seely Brown, former Chief Scientist, Xerox Corp., and head of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center "Big Data breaks new ground in identifying how todays avalanche of information fundamentally shifts our basic understanding of the world. Argued boldly and written beautifully, the book clearly shows how companies can unlock value, how policymakers need to be on guard, and how everyones cognitive models need to change."
—Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab "Big Data is a must-read for anyone who wants to stay ahead of one of the key trends defining the future of business."
—Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO, salesforce.com "An optimistic and practical look at the Big Data revolution — just the thing to get your head around the big changes already underway and the bigger changes to come."
—Cory Doctorow, boingboing.com "Just as water is wet in a way that individual water molecules arent, big data can reveal information in a way that individual bits of data cant. The authors show us the surprising ways that enormous, complex, and messy collections of data can be used to predict everything from shopping patterns to flu outbreaks."
—Clay Shirky, author of Cognitive Surplus and Here Comes Everybody "The book teems with great insights on the new ways of harnessing information, and offers a convincing vision of the future. It is essential reading for anyone who uses — or is affected by — big data."
—Jeff Jonas, IBM Fellow & Chief Scientist, IBM Entity Analytics “What Im certain about is that Big Data will be the defining text in the discussion for some time to come.”
“The authors make clear that ‘big data is much more than a Silicon Valley buzzword… No other book offers such an accessible and balanced tour of the many benefits and downsides of our continuing infatuation with data.”
—Wall Street Journal
"Plenty of books extol the technical marvels of our information society, but this is an original analysis of the information itself—trillions of searches, calls, clicks, queries and purchases....A fascinating, enthusiastic view of the possibilities of vast computer correlations and the entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of them."
—STARRED Kirkus Reviews
"This book offers important insights and information"
"'big data' [is] one of the buzzwords of corporate executives, tech-savvy politicians, and worried civil libertarians. If you want to know what theyre all talking about, then Big Data is the book for you, a comprehensive and entertaining introduction to a very large topic....Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier offer up some sensible suggestions on how we can have the blessings of big data and our freedoms, too. Just as well; their lively book leaves no doubt that big datas growth spurt is just beginning."
In this fascinating book, New Yorker
business columnist James Surowiecki explores a deceptively simple idea: Large groups of people are smarter
than an elite few, no matter how brilliant-better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.
With boundless erudition and in delightfully clear prose, Surowiecki ranges across fields as diverse as popular culture, psychology, ant biology, behavioral economics, artificial intelligence, military history, and politics to show how this simple idea offers important lessons for how we live our lives, select our leaders, run our companies, and think about our world.
A revelatory exploration of emerging trends in "big data"—our newfound ability to gather and interpret vast amounts of information—and the revolutionary effects these developments are producing in business, science, and society at large.
A revelatory exploration of the hottest trend in technology and the dramatic impact it will have on the economy, science, and society at large.
Which paint color is most likely to tell you that a used car is in good shape? How can officials identify the most dangerous New York City manholes before they explode? And how did Google searches predict the spread of the H1N1 flu outbreak?
The key to answering these questions, and many more, is big data. “Big data” refers to our burgeoning ability to crunch vast collections of information, analyze it instantly, and draw sometimes profoundly surprising conclusions from it. This emerging science can translate myriad phenomena—from the price of airline tickets to the text of millions of books—into searchable form, and uses our increasing computing power to unearth epiphanies that we never could have seen before. A revolution on par with the Internet or perhaps even the printing press, big data will change the way we think about business, health, politics, education, and innovation in the years to come. It also poses fresh threats, from the inevitable end of privacy as we know it to the prospect of being penalized for things we havent even done yet, based on big datas ability to predict our future behavior.
In this brilliantly clear, often surprising work, two leading experts explain what big data is, how it will change our lives, and what we can do to protect ourselves from its hazards. Big Data is the first big book about the next big thing.
About the Author
VIKTOR MAYER-SCHÖNBERGER is Professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University. The co-author of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We, Live, Work, and Think, he has published over a hundred articles and eight other books, including Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age. He is on the advisory boards of corporations and organizations around the world, including Microsoft and the World Economic Forum.
KENNETH CUKIER is the Data Editor of the Economist and co-author of Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. His writings on business and economics have appeared in Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, the Financial Times, and elsewhere.
Table of Contents
1 Now 1
2 More 19
3 Messy 32
4 Correlation 50
5 Datafication 73
6 Value 98
7 Implications 123
8 Risks 150
9 Control 171
10 Next 185
Review A Day
"Surowiecki is the New Yorker
's business columnist, and at times his book feels like a series of carefully constructed pieces rather than a whole work. Still, he writes with the patience and geniality of a beloved professor, and his arguments are invariably witty and to the point. The Wisdom of Crowds
draws a clear, erudite picture of the mechanisms by which our mass society works, and it is a refreshingly hopeful one." Anna Godbersen, Esquire
(read the entire Esquire review
"The performance of groups is a wonderful subject, and Surowiecki has a remarkable eye for the telling anecdote, illustrating abstract claims with vivid examples. His central point is convincing. Groups, and even crowds, can be wiser than most and sometimes even all of their members, at least if they aggregate information. But there is a serious problem with Surowiecki's discussion: he does not provide an adequate account of the circumstances that make crowds wise or stupid..." Cass R. Sunstein, The New Republic
(read the entire New Republic review