Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Wisdom of Crowds

We are reading a fascinating study, James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. He makes the counter-intuitive argument that if you pool the judgments of a diverse crowd, you will get an average answer that is likely to be good. In fact, it is likely to be better than the judgment of experts, and better than the judgment of any one member of the crowd.

To take a famous kind of puzzle, if you ask a crowd to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar, a few individuals in the group will be close to the right answer -- but the crowd as a whole is likely to be closer. Moreover, if you repeat the process with different sizes and shapes of the jars, the good individual guessers from the first jar are not likely to be the best individual guessers of the later jars -- but the crowd is likely to be close to right every time.

This is mysterious and interesting for anyone, but is especially intriguing for a sociologist. More as Surowiecki's argument unfolds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Aristotle makes a similar observation about the wisdom of large numbers of people, though I don't recall him using the 'jar of jelly beans' example.