IFTF: A View of the Wisdom of Crowds

16 January, 2005 at 09:54 Leave a comment

David Pollard in his Salon Knowledge Management and Innovation blog space provides a detailed analysis of Surowiecki’s “Wisdom of Crowds”. Makes some useful points that distinquish between problems that crowds can and cannot solve. Pollard produces characteristically detailed but insightful pieces: ” …Just to restate the basic principle: Many cognitive, coordination and cooperation problems are best solved by canvassing groups (the larger the better) of reasonably informed, unbiased, engaged people. The group’s answer is almost invariably much better than any individual expert’s answer, even better than the best answer of the experts in the group.
The reason for this superiority is that each individual brings to the problem some valuable unique knowledge or perspective, and any errors in that knowledge or perspective are balanced off against those of others in the group, so the collective wisdom of the group is likely to be extremely accurate, reliable, knowledgeable, and predictive. If you’re skeptical, please read the book — Surowiecki presents dozens of examples to support this thesis. The average prediction of one such group, the Iowa Electronic Market, over the several months before the election, was that Bush would win by a comfortable 3% margin and that Republicans would make gains in both houses of Congress. They were exactly right.
My ‘Collective Intelligence’ model realizes –
(a) that there are some things that crowds can’t do (they need to be given a problem with a discrete or quantifiable set of possible answers from which to choose)
(b) that care must be taken in the ‘qualification’ of the crowd to meet Surowiecki’s conditions of nonbias (they must understand the problem, be diverse in their perspectives, independent of groupthink tendencies and each able to bring a bit of unique knowledge to the problem
(c) that there needs to be some incentive for people to participate in the crowd (those guessing correctly the number of jelly beans in the large jar at least win the jelly beans) … “
Frankly speaking, all this collective-intelligence and smart-mobs stuff (to me) is just re-stating the obvious – again and again and again. All living entities perform better in groups for reasons we can and cannot attribute to. Gun, stock and barrell. There is evidence for this everywhere. I wonder why there is so much fascination and much research around this topic? In unity, there is strength. That folk-tale perhaps captures the essence better…


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