Review: The Wisdom of Crowds–Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations

5 Star, Consciousness & Social IQ, Information Society, Intelligence (Collective & Quantum)

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars Turns Concept of “National Intelligence” Right Side Up,

December 12, 2004
James Surowiecki
Edit of 20 Dec 07 to add links.

Edited 10 Jan 05 to point to Robert Buckman's book, Building a Knowledge-Driven Organization which is the implementation counterpart to this book. Those “stake-holders” whose egos are wrapped up in the hoarding of secrets will not like either of these books but the trends lines are clear: sharing beats hoarding, and collective intelligence of the group beats secret “single expert” intelligence just about every time.

Read this book along with Howard Rheingold's Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, Tom Atlee's The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All, Pierre Levy's Collective Intelligence: Mankind's Emerging World in Cyberspace–and if you wish, my own, The New Craft of Intelligence: Personal, Public, & Political–Citizen's Action Handbook for Fighting Terrorism, Genocide, Disease, Toxic Bombs, & Corruption This book has seriously altered my view of how to organize national decision-making. While I have been exposed to many great thinkers and authors, and formed my own views based on three decades in the defense-intelligence complex where America spends $70B a year on the 10% of the information it can steal, and next to nothing on polling, subject matter experts, and open sources of information, this book was an eye-opener for me.

I disagree with those reviews that dismiss this as “unscientific” or lacking in rigor. This book tells a very important story that could-that should-alter how we made decisions about very important matters with long-term consequences. While the author appears largely unwitting of the body of literature focused on this matter going back to at least Pierre Tielhard de Chardin and H.G. Wells, his book stands as a very valuable self-contained reference that cannot be ignored.

The author examines three broad situations: coordination, aggregation, and cooperation, and in all three concludes, with sufficient and compelling evidence as well as anecdote, that the best answers are from multiple disparate views that have been normalized. The author is also effective in pointing out that most “experts” rarely agree with one another, or get it right in the first place.

To take the simplest example, guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar, the author examines how “experts” or “closest individual guess” get within roughly 20 of the right number, while the crowd of disparate individuals–including biased and illiterate individuals–comes within 2. That is a huge benchmark.

This book is relevant to the application of emerging technologies, for example, application oriented networking systems and intelligent networks where P2P puts most of the knowledge at the edge of the network. What hit me with great force is that P2P and intelligent networks cannot be fully effective without an aggregation capability, a super-sized federated database system that scales infinitely–hence disqualifying all of the so-called relational databases.

I have over 20 notes on how to monetize the information in this book, which I consider to be the single most valuable book I have read in the past couple of years, after Thomas Stewart's “The Wealth of Knowledge.” Here is one simple one as citizen blogs and other information including environmental information begins to come on line: why not create a citizen's digital dashboard for cell phones and hand-held devices, so that the barcode on a device creates a full price analysis–not just price in dollars and cents, but price in terms of the greenness of the maker, hidden costs, the human rights and labor relations record of the maker and the seller, etc. I see the day coming when government cannot fund stupid programs because the people put those corporations that build stupid things into bankruptcy, while the labor union pension funds start using their power to invest only in companies committed to sustainable growth. Far-fetched today–this book, and my own understanding of where information technology is headed in the next five years–made me smile.

This is not a “fad” book. It has a great deal of meat. For the hacker set, this is “SNOWCRASH” all grown up, married with children.

Other books with reviews:
The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind from the Big Bang to the 21st Century
Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration
One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization

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