Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wisdom of crowds get challenged...

Clive Shepherd has posted about David Freedman's oppositional stance on the subject of the wisdom of crowds. I expect that David Freeman is going to come in for a bit of shtick on this one - it isn't PC to say that a bunch of people together can/will act unwisely, in this age when collaboration is the In Thing and can do no wrong. It is interesting to hear the voice of dissent.

I attended a workshop about James Surowiecki's Wisdom of Crowds some time age, and posted on it at the time. I have to admit that, the whole way through the workshop I was picturing those thousands upon thousands of people listening to Hitler speak and hanging upon his every word, and football crowds running amok, and Lord of the Flies (okay that last one is a work of fiction, and the group might be a little small to be called a crowd, but I pictured it anyway). I couldn't make those images fit with what I was hearing.

I can understand that under certain circumstances, crowds can be said to behave wisely. The 1994 elections in South Africa were a prime example: 90% of the country's population was getting to vote for the very first time. The world expected violence and bloodshed, but what happened was a peaceful, incident-free election.

This was a one-off situation when people consciously decided to strive for what was best for everyone. I fear, though, that the belief that crowds always display more wisdom than individuals is built upon the insubstantiated notion that people - individually and collectively - are always (whether intrinsically or extrinsically) motivated to do right and be the best they can be, and that this driver increases exponentially when people gather together. I have yet to see evidence of this. Many, perhaps even most, people strive to do the best they can for themselves under the circumstances, but doing well and doing good don't always go together... unfortunately.

In a post some time ago, I wailed half in jest: why can't we all just get along, to which Harold Jarche supplied a one-word explanation: greed. For as long as this is the case, I wonder how wise we really will be - collectively or individually.


Ewan McIntosh said...

There's a similar argument through Kathy Sierra's blog. I think we can collaborate for something better but it still needs respect for individuals' own expertise or experience - a free for all in a happy hippy way is a recipe for disaster:

Anonymous said...

"happy hippy way" what a perfect description! And I agree - a recipe for complete chaos!